Communities and Net Literature

Course Description

Communities & Net Literature is a seminar taking a comparative look at the production of stand-alone texts in the Chinese-speaking and English-speaking internet. (Chinese texts will be read in translation.) Students will look at four different types of text: explanatory writing (Baike and Wikipedia sites); journalistic writing (factual accounts of events, as produced by collaborating groups); and literature (net literature in Chinese; fan fiction in English.) The fourth text will be one of the student’s choosing, for their final paper. In addition to reading the relevant texts and theoretical accounts of their production, we will study the behaviors and negotiations of the participants, and will engage in ‘distant reading’, asking questions about texts that can only be answered with computers. Examples are: What is the differing link structure of Baike and Wikipedia articles on the same subject? Which Harry Potter characters appear more frequently in Chinese vs. English fiction set in that universe? What are the patters of participation on collaborative writing sites? The work of the class is readings, class discussion, group work, and applying new interpretative tools to the selected texts. Students will write a mid-term and a final paper about the work

Final Paper

How a Community Designed Differently on Mobile and on Desktop?

With a case study of Ant and Bee, an online community for individual travelers

In this essay, I will compare the community features provided by webpage and mobile app of a same community, Ant and Bee, to see how one community designs the interactive functions differently based on the platform and then, give some reasons that I can think of.

Ant and Bee (Ma Feng Wo), since its on-line operation in 2006, has been attracting a large number of travel enthusiasts who love outdoor travel, driving and professional photography. Up to now, it has already had a collection of many domestic and foreign tourist destinations with aggregated first-hand information shared by its users. Ant and Bee also publishes its own sophisticated and innovative travel books that cover all aspects of meals, accommodation, shopping, transportation, places to visit and entertainment, which drives more people to this site. According to Alexa.com, it now ranks 2577 worldwide and 318 in China.

According to my observation, general users for A&B website are those who are not traveling, not pressed by time, and not limited by screen estate or data cost. Compared with website users, mobile app users for A&B are those who are actually on the way traveling, in demand for instant sharing and discovering. Because the two terminals face almost the same group of people but in different situation and in different demands, Ant and Bee designs different interactive functions to fit its users better. I will start with website and then move to mobile app to show how it works:

On the webpage, there is an interactive reward system for travel notes. In general, high-quality travel notes that may be chosen to be on the homepage by website editors are consist of more than 10 thousands of characters and 300 high-resolution photos on average. Every travel note is marked with the ratio of reading/commenting and the number of thumbs up, adding to list and sharing to give some reward to author’s hard work. For the comment function, Ant and Bee provides some “boards” to let users thank the author for sharing and encourage authors to keep sharing their journeys, so that the site can keep the quantity and quality of travel notes. The “boards” are: good strategy, good photos, good looking (for author’s appearance), lol (for funny notes), cool (for uncommon but cool way to visit a place). If you choose a board in you comment, it will be on the right side of your comment, quite obviously showing your specific appreciation to the writer. Users can reply to a comment as well, which forms a two-way communication. In contrast, on mobile app, there is no “board” in the comment function, in my opinion, mainly because that phone users have much less possibility to go through the whole article and all the photos to make fair judgment with a smaller screen and data limitation. Considering that the “boards” catch users’ eyes at the first moment, Ant and Bee chooses to delete this function from mobile terminal to avoid partial opinions.

[Instructions on the “Boards”]

Second, I found the Finding a Travel Mate function also quite unique on website. In this section, you can post your travel plan including destination, duration and rough schedule to find a travel mate to go with you, especially to some untraversed places. In order to give the potential travel mates more information about himself, the person who post the travel plan tend to give a self-introduction, sometimes even including what college he is in, single or not (to avoid sweet couples, if he is), how old he is and so on, which actually form a group with a dozen of people online but travel together offline in real life. This unique function reflects the pre-travel feature of website users. It is they who need this function to plan their travel.

Besides, you can choose to join groups in Groups section based on your interest. For example, I joined Beijing group and well-decorated hotel group. Each group is separate, in BBS format. Every group can set its own administrators who can top posts, edit the group introduction and decide what post can be in the group collection. On the right side, you can get access to every administrator and talk to him. However, I didn’t find any information about how to become an administrator. Group members often share information based on what this group is about.

In general, Ma Feng Wo website is designed for people who can sit in front of their laptops for a long while with wifi to either make plans for their travels or write travel notes when they come back. It emphasizes the quality of travel notes with comments by other users. It is more like a social group than a social graph. Even though you can follow some people, you are rarely exposed to their recent updates unless you enter their profiles, so it doesn’t consist a completed social graph. In contrast, you can join several groups where you may find same people or similar posts from different groups, which connects groups together. In the group, it is oligarchy since the administrators have more rights but in a friendly way by being accessible with internal messages. The social groups are relatively in large scale, and the connections between members are loose.

How are the interactive functions designed in mobile terminal instead? Ant and Bee has four mobile Apps in total but I will only talk about two that have interactive features: Ant and Bee, and Buzz, briefly.

In Ant and Bee app, there are mainly three sections shown on the bottom bar: homepage, destination and mine. The community features take place in the last two sections. In the destination section, if you enable your GPS for this app, it brings you to the place you are directly with the information of how many people visited this city in the past 24 hours. If you click into it, it gives you three columns for food, places and shopping. Under each column, spots are ranked by the number of people as well, where you can take a look at each user and follow some if you are interested.

Unlike computers, smart phones are probably the only electronic devices that we carry no matter where we go all the time. Equipped with accurate GPS, smart phones enable the real-time location sharing associated with information of this place. Especially for a travel social network, the location makes a lot of sense. The social group is easy to form when people are traveling. However, once they lose the same physical location and come back to daily life, the group is easy to break down. This is a big reason why Buzz has a large number of users but few daily online users.

[Destination section -> places column]

The Mine section is pretty like the Mine section on Weibo with following, followers, messages and personal collections. One thing worth noticing is the big camera button on the top, which gives you a quick access to sharing your trip with other users on the app. This is the Buzz function. Webpage also has this function, but quite unnoticeable. Ant and Bee even launched an independent mobile app only for this function called Buzz. It is like Instagram, which makes up the other half of getting to know what your followings are doing function that Ant and Bee app misses to form a completed interactive cycle.

The digital camera on the phone dramatically rises the chance of taking photos which is a big deal for travel. In order to integrate photos into the social network, Ant and Bee designs the instant sharing function, Buzz. For people who have limited data and time, they make this function easy to access: third section -> camera button.

[Mine section and Buzz function on webpage]

In short, the mobile app is design for people who are on the way traveling. They need instant sharing function. The community features provide chances to form a close and small group that may meet each other in reality, temporarily based on location but the connections will be loose once they go back home, at least inside this app. Buzz App satisfies the further demand on interaction with an Instagram-like design. The interactive features on mobile app are distinct from website because of the platform: smart phone.

To sum up the whole essay, I would like to say that even though the users for the webpage and mobile app are basically the same group of people, their behaviors are shaped by different devices they use. Webpage, because of its large screen and no limitation on data and time, works better for people who are either pre-travel or post-travel. Thus, the web allows for large scale and loose groups and interaction between users. Mobile app, because of its smaller screen, data limitation, fragmented time, GPS and camera, works better for people who are traveling. Thus, it allows short time closely-connected groups and interaction based on location.

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