LocalWiki: A review of genre ecology instability across classes of participants



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This dissertation seeks to examine the ways in which a single online platform might exist in multiple states based upon the perceptions and experience of participants acting within the platform. Specifically, the study asks whether participants’ conceptions of a platform allows for a single digital platform to exist in a state of divergent genres dependent upon the level of experience for those participants. For the purposes of this study, the experience levels explored are new participants, experienced participants, and participants with design knowledge, where design knowledge is defined as experience with PHP and MySQL. The study then maps participant networks to illuminate the agents and relationships they create. In addition, the study maps a network for the platform itself in an attempt to map the platform’s interaction with these participant classes. The study interviewed 15 participants of varying experience (new, experienced, designer) and then recruited members from the classes to perform tasks within a specific platform, the LocalWiki Denton. The interviewed expectations where compared to the task experience of the participants. From there, a series of Actor Network Theory (ANT) maps were developed to illuminate how each class perceived the network and a series for how they experienced the network via the usability tasks. Comparisons between experience classes of participants and between expectation and experience were then performed to determine ways in which agency, purpose, and situational contingency reflect in the manner in which participants perceived and interacted with platform. The study found that experienced participants make the best argument for a single genre that meets the expectations of the participant in both interview and performance within the platform studied. The study also reveals significant variance in how new and design participants describe a system versus how they interact with a system. The mapping of these networks exposed numerous reasons for this variance, including the inclusion of “instability actors” that persisted through perception and interaction for many participants. “Instability actors” here refers to agents that do not exist within the platform but whom a particular participant class bases its contingency plans upon in both perception and experience. In the study, the clearest example of this phenomena involved new participants predicting the existence of moderators within the wiki and making choices in task process based upon the existence of moderators even in the absence of evidence that such moderators existed. The study concludes by discussing how varying degrees of genre stability within a platform affects rising concerns in platform governance and moderation in online communities.



Wiki, Actor network theory