Linguistic Mimicry and Trust in Text-Based CMC

Lauren Scissors et al, Northwestern University

In face to face settings, people establish rapport through behavior mimicry, to get people to like them.

Lack this in text. Is there linguistic mimicry?

Previous research indicates that f-to-f speech patterns, people tend to adopt partner’s speach patterns.

Also, research on trust in CMC environments. Takes longer to develop trust in CMC.

Hypthoesis: Text-chat enviormenent: high levels of linguistic mimicry associated with higher level of trust, lower mimicry associated with lower level of trust. Hmmm, I’m skeptical.

Description of method…..examined mimicry: using lexical mimicry (noun or noun phrase), Text-chat abbreviation mimicry (like “u didn’t do it”), and syntactic, emotion-related character (emoticons).

Hmm, deeply skeptical of abbreviation mimicry.

WIthin-session mimicry led to higher trust. Across-session mimicry lower trust. Hm, not sure i buy it. Many approach the microphone for some of the ol’ rip-n-tear action.

Mind your Ps and Qs: The Impact of politeness and rudeness in online communities

Moira Burke and Bob Kraut, CMU


  • determine impact of polite or rude language in online commnity interaction (newcomer integration, more efficient groupwork, death by monster (?))
  • Build machine learning tools to automatically detect polite language
  • Extend linguistic politeness theory to social interactions between strangers online

Method: survey to rate politeness of messages  in a discussion group. Code message for presence or active of specific strategies around politeness.

Linguistic politeness theory, Brown and Levinson: 15 positive strategies to increase person’s positive social value, and 10 negative strategies to decrease. Interesting, should read that sometime.

Generally, they found that rude behavior in a politics group  “helps” (that is, gets replies), where as in technical groups tend to not get responses. Well, okay. Keep in mind, that previous research points out that getting responses is what fuels future participation.

Next steps: train machine to detect language. A “Politness checker” like a grammar checker. Hm, not sure i like that. Good writing is the avoidance of cliche, not the repetition of patterns observed elsewhere.

I am waiting – Timing and responsiveness in semi-synchronous communication

Within synchronous communication, lack of responsiveness is immediately problemmatic. But what is the affect in asynchronous?

In IM, users can choose whether and when to respond to EVERY point of the conversation. And, users typically multitask n IM communications.

Objective of study: a deeper understanding of factors that affect responsiveness. They do this with a survey. Hmm. This seems kind of obvious: resposiveness is a runction of how busy i am and the perceived importance of the message. Perceived importance culd be bucketed into a few things (who sent it, subject matter, provocation, etc).

Their list:

  • Identify of the buddy
  • relationship with buddy
  • time since liast message
  • whtehr message window already existed
  • whether message window was in focus

Results HIghlights and Implications

Relationship category did not have a significant impact on responsiveness. Hm, that’s surprising. But there were significant differences between individuals.

Work-fragmentation is a strong indicator of faster responsiveness

  • More keyboard activity
  • More mouse activity
  • More app-window switches.
  • Hmm, that’s interesting too.

Also: Faster responsiveness if the IM window was already open. And, signifiant efrect whether the window is covered or not. Shocker!

  • Longer messages got faster responses
  • Questions got faster responses
  • URLs got slower responsiveness
  • Emoticons marginally slower responses.

Microstructures of Social Tagging

Need to get name of presenter…University of Illinois

What are microstructures?

Relatively invariant behavioral patterns emerged from user-environment interactions.

At a functional level, cognitive processes tend to be stable across individuals.

Why do we care?

Provide explanations that cut zcross levels of activities: social levels (minutes, hours, weeks), cognitive levels (seconds, minutes), embodiment level (ms, seconds). Whoah.

Distributed congnition

Arguing that social tagging is a distributed cognitive system, where individual represntations of individual users interact with the “same” external representations of other users (tags)

Tagging is a form a knowledge exchange (your representation via a tag is interpreted by another person)

Exploratory Search

Exploratory information search characteristics

  • Lack of specific information goals
  • Info goals are defined throuh a series of search-and-comprehend activities
  • Claim: Mental concepts are utilized (and critical) for evaluation of info content
  • Okay, what does this have to do with tagging?
  • Claim: social tags augment the evaluation process and thus facilitate exploratory search

How do people form and use mental categories

Peeople naturally categorize concepts. Concept formation is a rational response to information reduction.

The study (“to show you i’m not just hallucinating”)

Follow 4 users across 8 weeks. Engage in exploratory info tasks. Use to collect information and prepare for talk. Create tags for themselves and others.


Somewhat impenetrable. Upshot seems to be arguing that tags are not just “metadata” but actually directly influence knowledge structures.

Influences on tag choices on

Emilee Rader, Univ. of Michigan

Missed presenter name.

Folksonomy: Potential for the emergence of collective meaning.

Why do people choose some tags over other tags.?

Social: Tag choices influenced by the system. non-social: tag choices are idiosyncratic. Which is true?

Found: Users future tag choices are heavily influenced by tag choices they have previously made. Shocker. (and the ui specifically encourages that)

Social hypothesis: users’ tag choices are influenced by tags applied by other people.

Organizing hypothesis: users’ tag choices are personal and idiosuncratic, NOT influenced by others’ tag choices.

So we set out to look for a aconection between the small scale (individual tag choices) and the large scale (aggregate patterns). Dataset: 30 pages, hundreds of thousands of tags, thousands of users.

Final hypotheses

  • Imitation: users imitate tags that previous users have used
  • Organizaing: users re-use tags they ahve previously used — Our study indicates this is most imporant (But SK says: yeah, but the UI supports this one most visibly. You’re just verifying the UI effect. Right? Am I missing something? Okay, yeah, guy comes up and ask.)
  • Recommended: users choose suggested tags from

I’m taking notes as the sessions go…

Mopping up: Modeling Wikipedia promotion decisions

Moira Burke and Robert Kraut – CMU (Bob is a failry big figure in CSCW and CHI)

How are promotion decisions made?

  • Large groups of strangers colaborate to choose caretakers known as administrators
  • We model successful candidates based on simple metrics that can be computed quickly in real time
  • How does the community user evidence to build consensus, and are there opportunities for tools to support decision-making?

Policy capture theory:

  • compare organizations stated criteria for making decisions with actual behaviors
  • typically: a disconnect (now, imagine that)
  • beause of:
  • difficulty finding information
  • cognitive overload
  • weighting simple things too heavily
  • process-blocking or bandwagon effects in collective process.

Method: Looked at all Admin-approvals.

  • Categorized previous contributions based on RFA guide
  • Modeled promotion success based on contribution history
  • Several criteria listed from RFA

Hard to measure criteria:

  • trustworthiness
  • quality of edits

How to use: apply their model of admin-effectiveness to:

  • voter dashboard or self-evaluation tool
  • Admin finder bot
  • Similar model for decisionmaking in other online environments like WOW

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds in Wikipedia: Quality through coordination

Aniket Kittur and Bob Kraut, CMU

Online collective intelligence:

  • Predicitng
  • Filtering
  • Organizaing
  • Recommending (netflix)


  • people are making independent judgements
  • and you can automatically aggregate these assumptions

But that doesn’t really work for complex information processing.

Need to coordinate, collaborate. So: HOw do we harness the wisdom of crowds for complex things.  Just throwing people together won’t work. “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it: later.”

Previous research indicates that more work / more people on wikipedia leads to better articles (“Feature articles”).

Interested in coordination among authors editors:

  • Explicit coordination (direct communication between authors / editors)
  • Implicit coordination (structuring wrork so it is concentrated in core group; leadership role in setting scope and direction)

How to measure quality of artciles? Why, with the Wikipedia 1.0 Quality Assessment Scale!


  • Incrasing # of editors had NO INCREASE in quality
  • Increasing coordination in communication and concentration resulted in higher quality.
  • Communication does not scale to the crowd. High communication with few editors leads to qualtity. But scale up the editors, quality goes down.

Interesting stuff.

Articulations of WikiWork. (Good paper!)

Mass collaporations, a la wiki, are going to become more important to society.

We want to know how this work is sustained, so we studied Barnstars on wikipedia. To figure out how work is valued on wikipedia.

They review the breakdown of barnstars on wikipedia:

  • Editing work: 27%
  • Social and Community support actions: 25%
  • Border Patrol: 11%
  • Administrative Actions”: 9%
  • Collaborative ations and dispositions (collaboration on pages like mediating conflicts) 8%
  • Meta cntent work, the cration of tools, templates, etc. 5%
  • And, undifferentiated: 14%

So note that editing only accounts for 27%. Reputation systems must award more than simple production, right?

Need reputation frameworks for complex cooperative work. Very interesting.

I spent the day yesterday in a roomful of supersmart people discussing Social Networking in the Organization. Below you’ll find a not-especially-coherent splash of notes on the whole thing. Big thanks organizers of the workshop, who made it an interesting day and patiently tolerated my industry-skewed blathering.

Some Key Themes Discussed / Questions Raised

Going from memory here…

  • Goals and needs that populations tend to bring to social networking software. What are they?
  • Jonathan Grudin talked about the classic CSCW paper from McGrath which plots the work that goes on in groups and teams on an axis. (Haven’t read this paper…need to.) Usually people pay attention to the production portion of that plotting, but perhaps with social software we should be looking a lot more at how SNS affects the team building and member support activities of team work. Interesting.
  • Great deal of discussion on how to measure activity and assign it a value of SNS. I’d been jabbering a lot, so I did not bring up Rob Cross’s Social Network Analysis work, but Cross has an interesting angle on it.
  • Design for sales. I mentioned that occasionally we’ve built features that our clients sometimes don’t actually use, but which must be there in order to make the sale. Millen mentioned there might be a paper in there somewhere.
  • What constitutes “inappropriate” content…the kind of content that an enterprise theoretically would want to control. Profanity? Sure. Thoughtful criticism of the sponsoring company’s strategic goals? Perhaps. A survey study of different organizations to find out just what constitutes “inappropriate” would be pretty interesting.
  • Plenty more…but space / attention is limited…

Finally, I railroaded a good part of the final discussion into consideration of how moderational / monitoring controls impact population activity / contributions. Patricia Romeo from Deloitte, who has led the development of their internal social networking app, was astonished at how much monitoring / moderational control is built into the SelectMinds application (and if Patricia was astonished, the IBM people were aghast…apparently anything goes on their internal SNS).

Fair enough. There’s no doubt that more moderational / monitoring intervention = less activity, less robust network. My challenge was: can we actually study and quantify the impact of different moderational / monitoring approaches to robustness of the community? That would allow me to present clients with a cost-benefit framework around moderational control. Maybe that’s my next paper.

Some interesting topic that came up, and links

Dana Boyd – PhD researcher concentrating on “faceted identity” online. Related to my last few blog posts, will need the check these out.

HCI Remixed – Includes Grudin’s essay on McGrath’s older paper. Will need to buy this.

In the last few posts I’ve introduced the issue of how one’s work and social life can collide in social networking applications, and reviewed a few of the UI controls that enterprise companies demand from social-media providers to make sure their populations behave appropriately.

But in this post I will argue that, by and large, the UI tools offered by social networks to “manage” your behavior are inadequate, and perhaps will NEVER be adequate. Why? Because people simply aren’t tuned to think outside the context of their synchronous environment.

  • A tragic example: Recently, a woman was killed by her husband after she changed her facebook profile to “single” and the news showed up in the husband’s activity stream.
  • A funny example: Recently, some dumb kid was fired from his job, when, after calling in sick, he set his Facebook status to “not going to work, fuck it.”
  • A personal example: My wife’s young cousin recently went off to college, got a tattoo, put it on her Facebook. My wife was then told: “But don’t tell her Mom and Dad, it’s a secret.” This is someone who’s grown up with social networks! Secret? Are you serious?

How many times is this repeated every day, now, out on the social networks. Someone records their interior monologue on the social network, and someone out there gets the news, and all hell breaks loose. People are pretty dumb about thinking beyond their synchronous context.

Social media apps have tried to figure out a way to allow you to partition your life, so that the right people are seeing the right stuff.

  • Flickr allows you to set photos to “public”, or for “friends” only, or for “family” only. But what about people who are kind of both?
  • Xing allows users to mark every line of their profile public or private. But really, who’s going to bother with that? (Most social networks have similar, if less complete, privacy controls on profiles.)
  • LinkedIn allows you to turn off pushing profile updating (that is: resume updating) activity out to your activity feed, just in case you’re linked to your boss. But will you remember to do it beforehand?

My point here isn’t that social media companies should stop trying to figure out how to allow users to manager the various personae the put on and take off each day. In fact, it’d be a killer app. But how can it possibly work? How, other than total social-network abstinence, can you be tuned to the negative consequences, waiting two days–or two years–down the road, of something you recorded in your Facebook this morning?

One of the reasons I’m glad to work at SelectMinds is that, as a business application, users really ought to know to behave themselves. If you slag your boss on one of our client networks, and get caught (as you surely will), I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

But I do sometimes really worry about the panopticon society that we’re building for ourselves with consumer social networks, where one’s multiple personae must be meticulously managed and guarded at all times.

So, my dear audience, there’s the make-a-billion-dollars challenge for you: the intelligent, easy personae manager that works across multiple social networks and data silos. An impossible dream?

Oh, and by the way, I’m leaving Twitter linked to this blog. Why? I hope (perhaps foolishly) that my occasional business-questionable post on Twitter will also help self-select the sorts of people I end up working with. If they don’t like what they see there, they may ultimately not like working with me. But, in this economy, we’ll see how long that attitude lasts.

I’ll be part of a workshop on “Social Networking in Organizations” at Computer Supported Cooperative Work 2008, next week in San Diego. CSCW is the premiere academic conference devoted to collaborative work, sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

The workshop is hosted by several people from IBM’s Center for Social Software and another fellow from Microsoft Research. Hopeful participants had to submit an abstract and have their paper selected, and mine was. Nice!

I’ll be in a workshop alongside many academics and a single other actual business person, from Deloitte.

Anyway, check out the papers for many interesting submissions on social networking in organizations. I’m still working through ’em, but I’ll list the especially good papers below.

Let me know if any of you will be in San Diego next week. Maybe The Locust will be playing a gig.

Amusing article by Scott Brown in Wired discussing how maintaining constant contact with a ton of friends, and being meticulously updated as to all their activities on Facebook, isn’t necessarily a good thing. What about people you want to kind of fade away, like that kind of annoying guy from high school?

Scott Brown on Facebook Friendonomics (Wired Magazine)

Brown suggests a “Friend Fade” feature for Facebook that kind of lets those C-list friends disappear. In truth, Facebook does offer a “Less about [name]” feature in its activity feeds, which I myself have started using for people I have friended, but aren’t really my friends. Does it work? Still figuring that out. But it seems useful, and maybe the perception is all that matters.

Next post: other features / functions that social media might use to balance the business / private aspects of your life.

So last time around, I was wondering whether I should continue to link my Twitter (and Facebook), which tend to have personal-oriented (and possibly problematic) content, to this blog, which is much more of a business vehicle. Naturally that begs the larger question: how is social software in general, and enterprise social media in particular, coping with the blend of business and personal begat by social media?

It’s still very early days, but I’d like to explore three aspects: How the enterprise is responding to social media and what it demands; some of the features/functions that have arisen in social media to attempt to moderate behavior; and finally the inherent inability of technical solutions to provide a way asynchronously manage the appropriateness of one’s behavior. I’ll tackle the first two below, and the last in the next post. And but so…

What the enterprise demands from social media: control

Web 2.0 is about openness. It’s about the freedom to interact with others, unfettered by controls. Putting roadblocks around people or things only strangles the community. The old top-down hierachy of corporations is dead, and Web 2.0 will unshackle employee communities to let them communicate and collaborate free of any corporate controls.

Yeah, right. To quote Animal Mother from “Full Metal Jacket”: “Wake up, dreamboy.” Corporations may be buying into some of the advdertised benefits of Web 2.0 for employee collaboration, but many (seriously, many) of them will demand careful controls for how people can interact and the ability to control the conversation. Some will do so for regulatory reasons (Big Pharma and banks in particular), and some will do so because they’re big companies and that’s just the way they are. If the solution provider cannot offer a level of control appropriate to their risk-aversion, well then forget it.

Some features/functions that have arisen in social media which attempt to moderate behavior

SelectMinds has been working in this world for awhile, so I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of how the big, risk-averse organization is willing to approach Web 2.0. Some of the requirements are:

  • Contribution pre-approval. Every feature built must allow client-owners to moderate end-user-submitted content before it’s live to site. Does this slow down the conversation of the end users…even drive down usage a little? Sure. But the enterprise simply won’t buy the solution if they can’t have control. Eventually they’ll realize that end-users are behaving themselves and trust some of the other controls built in, including…
  • No anonymous posting. The enterprise social media system must have only approved, vetted members, and those members’ names will be attached to everything they post. You’re less likely to flame the company when you’re name will appear, bold and linked to your profile, at the bottom of your post.
  • Controls for who can post to what. The enterprise is naturally sensitive about ensuring that the “proper” people are submitting content into vetted areas, and will demand the ability to regulate who has the ability to contribute to which areas.
  • Naughty word filter. Sure, it’s easy to get around it by typing “f*ck”, but in every prospect meeting I’m in, to a one, a discussion of discussion-board functionality leads someone to ask “but what if someone uses a swear word?” It’s literally better to just have the ability to block certain words than to attempt to defuse the client’s fear of naughtiness.
  • Community policing. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing buttons reading “Report abuse” or “Flag as in appropriate”. This kind of community-self-policing is just as important in the enterprise social media context, especially when, eventually, you convince your client to trust the community and remove pre-approval requirements.

Now you know a bit more about what the enterprise is demanding from social media, and some of the features (both for enterprise, as well as consumer social networks) that help regulate behavior.

Next time, I’ll discuss why tech cannot completely save people from themselves: the inabilty of people to synch themselves to a persistent but asynchronous social environment.

This simple, personal (and yes, self-absorbed) question has some pretty serious social-media dimensions. I’m not just navel-gazing! Let me explain.

The ascendence of social media has brought the private and business lives of individuals into increasing contact. In the past, appropriate behavior at the office and behavior (appropriate or otherwise) in one’s personal life was easily segmented. You answered “This is Steve” on the office phone, you answered “Hiyo!” on your home phone. You wore a tie at the office, you danced on the tables on a Saturday night. Regulating the appropriateness of one’s behavior was pretty easy: it’s a synchronous activity, actively tuned at all times to the context of who you’re with and the situation at hand.

Asynchronous social media changes all that. Your funny, but, shall we say, slightly off-color Facebook status is there in perpetuity, just waiting to be discovered by someone from a different context in your life. Ask any of the defrocked Miss New Jerseys or Miss Nevadas about those party photos on MySpace. They may be beauty queens, but they’re smart enough not to shotgun beers during the pageant’s Q&A portion. But the scandalous photos, asynchronously, come back to haunt. Do they wish they could take it back? Sure. But, being humans, they were only considering the appropriateness of their behavior to the synchronous context.

Okay, back to me. So, on the “About” page of this here blog, you’ll find links to my LinkedIn, Facebook,, my portfolio, and Twitter. LinkedIn is solidly business-appropriate, and is mostly design / business (and anyway, I can mark links as “private”). Facebook is mostly friends and thus personal (I do have one connection from a client, which i accepted after much hand-wringing). I could easily un-link Facebook, I suppose.

Twitter’s harder. I post personal things, but also business thoughts, design criticism, promos for this blog, and whatnot to Twitter. Also, Twitter by its nature should resemble a stream-of-consciousness feed of what I’m thinking. I find it difficult to consistently apply a perfect “appropriateness” filter to Twitter. If I want to comment on a UI design, I will. If I want to quote a song lyric, I will. If I want to say something mean about Joe the Plumber, I will (and have, in rather colorful terms).

The problem is that, eventually, someone from the business side of my life will wander over to my Twitter and see something they don’t like. The ramifications could range from mild, unexpressed displeasure to a police escort from the office….who knows? The point is, what seemed synchronously appropriate to me became inappropriate when encountered asynchronously by another human in my life.

Okay, that’s the lay of the land. In the next post, I’ll dig deeper into this issue of the bleed between business and personal in social media. Specifically, I’ll look further at how the enterprise approaches social media and its behavioral aspects, and I’ll examine some technical/feature approaches to regulating behavior, and the difficulties those technologies have with regards to how people behave in synchronous / asynchronous contexts. Let me know if there’s anything else you think I should cover!

I’ll leave Twitter linked, for now.

As the enterprise increasingly adopts social media, one of the key skeptical questions from prospects or new clients is: “How Do We Get People to Use It?”

It’s a fair question. Whether the corporation is making the investment in a social media app for marketing outreach, employee collaboration and productivity, or closed-network communications, they’re typically spending real money. The bad taste from big-investment-low-usage portals and CMS systems still lingers on many IT buyers’ palettes.

At SelectMinds, how we answer that question is complicated somewhat by varying levels of risk-aversion in our clients concerning end-user freedom and contribution. Put simply, these clients are shy about the anything-goes aesthetic of the consumer social networks they’ve encountered, like MySpace or Facebook.

So, I look at driving user engagement in social media as a question of the right features (of course, I’m a product manager) and active community management (on which I have opinions, but our Services department is an active driver with our clients), all in the appropriate context of risk-aversion and control for the enterprise. More details below…

The Right Features

People of course come to social media apps to use features, to do stuff, and I think user-engagement features which are appropriate for the enterprise context can be grouped as follows:

Outbound communication tools. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, which are essentially platforms for end-user social interaction with little in the way of an ‘ownership’ voice, enterprise social media must allow for the broadcast (or narrowcast) communications which constitute the ‘voice’ of the sponsoring company. While the idea of top-down, ‘official’ news, events, etc., seems anathema for typical consumer Web 2.0 apps, it is still central to the needs of an enterprise with a brand to maintain and a message to communicate.

Profiles. Naturally any social media app must have some basic tool allowing end users to manage and display their identity: Displaying one’s self to the world is a core driver of engagement in these apps. What’s interesting in the enterprise realm is: how flexible is the profile in terms of the specific needs of a given enterprise? What controls are available to the enterprise to ensure the right information gets displayed to the right people?

Social networking. The ability to “friend” people is of course a central tenet of most social media apps, and our metrics indicate it is a strong driver of engagement with end users (compared to our clients who elect not to use the social networking capability of SelectMinds). But again, in the enterprise, questions of which populations should be allowed to interact with which are central concerns which the application must support.

User-contributed content. Just as site sponsors must be able to push their message, any real social media application must support substantive abilities for end-users to contribute as well. The ability for members to have their say is also a key driver of engagement. But, again, to what degree can the sponsoring enterprise maintain control? This is not simply the fear that someone will say “fuck” on the network; there are very real regulatory and governance concerns that the enterprise must be able to accommodate.

Alerts. Finally, alerting users to new content and new activity via the user interface, RSS feeds, and emails are obvious drivers of traffic to the application. But, as always, it is crucial for the enterprise to configure the availability of these alerting mechanisms to correspond with their risk-tolerance.

Active Community Management

So you’ve got a lot of nice features, cool. IT’S NOT ENOUGH! The final point we emphasize with our enterprise prospects and clients is that active and dedicated community management is required to grow traffic and grow the community. Admins need to post news, seed forums, encourage and compliment end-users that are engaged, highlight stars, etc. Just buying the technology, unfortunately, is not enough.

The proof? A few quick points:

  • A recent study (180kb .pdf) by the Social Computing Lab at HP in Palo Alto indicated a strong correspondence between “attention” given to Youtube users and the number of videos they uploaded to the system. More attention generally yielded more participation. (Thanks to Pete for the link.)
  • The foundational story of photo-sharing site Flickr tells how during the first year of the site Flickr employees obsessively complimented users on their photos to get them to come back. It worked, and eventually Flickr reached the self-perpetuating tipping point where users were contributing on a massive scale.
  • Finally, our own metrics at SelectMinds clearly indicate that clients with more actual human beings employed in nurturing and developing the community are rewarded with higher engagement numbers.

So, will they use it? Yes, if you have the right set of features, but also, crucially for the enterprise, if you’re willing to further fund the personnel to nurture and encourage the network.

Rachel Happe at The Social Organization has more thoughts on community management and engagment. Check it out.