[-empyre-] Hello and All About BumpList

Hi Everyone,

I've also been a lurker on this list for a few months. After reading through the posts since I've been on, I definitely have to agree with others that this list really does provides a crucial outlet for discussion that is often lacking in the other lists I've been on. Its nice to have space for thoughts and ideas to float around that feels a bit more organic and nurtured - as well as people willing to post their candid opinions without any hesitation.

Thanks to Melinda for inviting me to participate in this month's network(O)rama event. For a quick intro on me, I'm currently a PhD student in the Disruptive Design Team at Trinity College Dublin's Networking and Telecommunications Research Group (NTRG) and a collaborator/researcher with the Human Connectedness group at Media Lab Europe in Dublin. I've been running a community group in Dublin for the past two years called the Dublin Art and Technology Association (www.data.ie) which has dedicated itself to opening up discussion of projects and ideas informally online and in monthly events. My own research is on deconstructing networks by subverting existing relationships to human-networked interfaces and building experiments such as real-world inputs to networks, redefining how information is used and disseminated, and shifting virtual processes into physical forms through networked devices and experiences. Some of this work can be found here:

On the topic of networks, I've been working on the social relationships between people using networks and the infrastructure in place surrounding this use. This includes everything from how networks are represented in pop culture, the language of networks, metaphors of interaction, proximity engagement of ad-hoc and wireless networks (in collaboration with Katherine Moriwaki), and collaborative systems with mobile phones. On the topic of email lists, since this is one, I've been working on a project called BumpList: An Email Community for the Determined (http://www.bumplist.net) that aims to re-examine the culture and rules of email list communities.

I started BumpList because I am interested in making systems that directly counter themselves through their structure and use. On BumpList, the main constraint is that it only allows for a maximum amount of subscribers so that when a new person subscribes, the first person to subscribe is "bumped", or unsubscribed from the list. Once subscribed, you can only be unsubscribed if someone else subscribes and "bumps" you off. BumpList is meant to actively encourage people to participate in the list process by requiring them to subscribe repeatedly if they are bumped off.

BumpList is an example of an online community that was created to question the fundamental structure of online communities. The project takes a critical role at the traditional form and use of emailing lists by placing emphasis on the "act of belonging" to these lists so that users must constantly subscribe to stay active in the community. This challenges the notion of how digital communities maintain member's involvement and how the design of these lists impact users' behaviors. I'm sure this is never a problem on Empyre!

Since BumpList launched in May 2003 it has succeeded in maintaining involvement as users have generated over 78,000 total subscribes, resubscribes and bumps, 30,000 unique email messages, and millions of total hits. The website features a real-time "Hall of Fame" that ranks users activities based on total posts, bumps, and time they have managed to stay subscribed. Some observed behaviors from the project range from participants creating personalized statistics pages, one member creating a yahoo group for people unable to stay on the list, attempted hacks of the systems such as auto-subscribe bots, and fierce competition over belonging to the list (currently about 12-20 people fighting for the 6 spots). The project attempts to rethink the formal assumptions that define online communities and eventually allow for these systems to be redesigned based on user-defined criteria.

So far the results of this project / experiment have been really interesting. The most significant part of the project is how making a change to one simple rule completely alters the dynamic of a community. My interest was in keeping the structure of the list the same so that no one who subscribed would have to learn a new interface, but make the emphasis rest on the "act of belonging" rather than just being on the list. This makes it more active to be a participant and the impetus to contribute much higher. Since we publish the amount of posts, no one can be a lurker either! So being involved in the community becomes more public and demanding - thus measuring the participants determination to stay involved.

Watching BumpList evolve has been an amazing learning experience. What started off as an experiment has turned into a strong community of dedicated people. The most interesting part of the project was to watch how people tried to break the system and hack the interface by subscribing long email address names or posting their messages as subjects. We purposely made it open, yet exclusive and democratic so that people would be encouraged to rejoin after being bumped.

Anyways - hope this sheds some light on the underbelly of the project and I encourage people to comment about what is important to them in online communities and if or how the structure of them determines your involvement and interest. I definitely think it does.


Jonah Brucker-Cohen             |        Human Connectedness Group
PHD Candidate		    |        Media Lab Europe
NTRG, Trinity College 	    |        Sugar House Lane, Bellevue
Dublin 2, Ireland  	    |        Dublin 8, Ireland
(w) +353 1 4742853  (m) +353 (0)87 7990004
http://www.coin-operated.com - projects and work/blog
http://www.undertheumbrella.net - UMBRELLA.net project

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