This is practically translated into giving local professionals the opportunity to become guides on Mediamatic Travel. In their guidepage we enable them to point out some interesting things in their city. People interested in visiting can push the guide me-button to get in touch with the guide offline for a custom tailored tour in the city's underground.
Everybody agrees on that the project has a great filosophy and seems very promising. However, the website still lacks participation and, associated with this, a broad reach: No guides have been contacted yet, little comments are placed, content is poorly created and consumed. How can we turn this around while still staying true to being non-commercial, culturally and artistically involved? How can participation be stimulated on the Mediamatic Travel website?
In order to answer this question a short theoretical background will be given (don't worry it's just a half page long). After that I'll propose a practical solution based on research which I'll refer to as Date, Rate and Intermediate in order to tackle the problem of participation on our Mediamatic travel website. The research that has been done can be devided into three stages. First I did an qualitative semi-structured interview with potential users of the website. Usability testing with an eye-tracker was the next step. Finally a questionnaire was sent to all guides in order to find out what they thought of the project so far. Using the three tests enabled me to get an overview of the website from the member, guides and potential users perspective.
What do we need to ensure an online community? First you need tools and a technical infrastructure to facilitate and support the online community's interactions with the world. Needless to say the technical infrastructure needs to fit that particular community.
The second aspect you need is social behaviour, which will sustain the community over time. This aspect we can divide in four kinds. An online community has to be able to..:
- manage the tools they are using. Technical management.
- socially manage their online platform to ensure it's safety and open communication.
- exert some kind of external promotion in order to attract new members.
- create content and consume it.
This last social behaviour lies in the heart of active participation. However in order to ensure participation in an online community, we need to adress the motivations people have to participate online. People participate,..(Kollock, 1999).
*Because they want something in return for their contribution (info, members, visibility etc.)
- Because they want to communicate their individuality, personality, reputation (and be recognized for it)
- Because they want to feel a sense of community they belong to.
- Because they want to feel they have an impact on their surroundings.
Every individual is different, so that's why a website should always allow for different stages of participation. You can't expect everybody to participate in the same manner and to be rewarded in the same manner as well. That's why some kind of ratings are applied in most of the cases. Not to reward the heavy participator, but to make a distinction between users and enable them to be recognized for their work (Lange, 2007).
Now that we know the basics of participation and online communication, how can we implement these theories into Mediamatic Travel?
Yes, date. Although the travel-site is not a dating site, some very important similarities can be found. In both cases the aim is eventually to meet eachother in real-life. In both cases the members have the same goal, the same interest or need something only the other can provide.
However in our travel site, none of the guides have been contacted yet. When asking visitors why they don't feel the urge to contact guides, they respond that they need more information on the guide and some kind of reviews or recommendations of other users. They can't find relevant information on the guides and can't really relate to them.
So how come a datingsite does work? A dating site requires members to answer fixed questions. In that way they are ensuring some important issues;
*It's much easier to awnser questions than to find inspiration to write something yourself.
*The profile looks instantly full.
*It gives us the possibility of linking people with others based on their interests and demographics.
*It provides visitors with relevant information about others.
The questionair should have a fill-in form, be relevant, fun and quickly to complete (see Datingsite Mediamatic). Maybe even enable visitors to draw a map where they're going or at least have a question that is concerned with their travelplans. The dating aspect will also enable visitors to get in touch with eachother and link themselves to an event/organisation/place/location.
In that way we'll provide guides with information about what their potential visitor are like, so the communication goes two-ways. Not only will visitors be looking for guides, but guides will be able to see their prospective visitors. The guides now are waiting for someone to contact them and have nothing else to do than adding contributions. By using dating you'll find people that can mean something to you, read relevant information about them, have something to talk about (based on same interest) and lower the barrier of contacting a guide.
Rating can be used to inform people about the ins and outs of the website. The participation on our website should be made more visible. You can't see who is visited the most, who contributed the most, where the last comment has been posted. The members of our website ask for this kind of information. Nobody knows what's going on in the website.
Furthermore rating doesn't just keep everybody informed about the dynamics of the online community, it also gives people a platform to promote themselves and be recognized for their work. Guides who have participated a lot, don't get anything in return. This results in a feeling of dissapointment and decreasing motivation to participate. By acknowledging their work and effort, hopefully we'll stimulate them to keep on participating. Locally on their page it should be very visible how many people like their guidepage, how many visitors the guide had, number of pageviews and how long the guide has been participating.
The questionnaire proved people participate for different reasons, guides are under a lot of pressure to add contributions as quickly as possible and would really like to co-operate with others. This means we actually have the following type of users on our website:
- The spectator (is just looking around, doesn't participate),
- The visitor (a member interested in travelling, would like to participate),
- The contributor (a professional who wants to promote their thing),
- The guide (is primarily concerned with informing people about the city's underground).
Intermediation will ensure all users have something interesting to do on this website. The term Intermediation must be understood as 'Introducing' and 'Managing'. By 'introducing' we stimuate the guides to invite their network to the Travel website. All the guides that are already a member of our website, have a great network they could invite to our website. By using a 'invite contributor' or 'invite artist'- button we enable a guide to invite a person to be the owner/content-provider of an organisation/event/place. The guide knows this person has the time, motivation and resources to add something sensable and worthy to the website. In that way, we are taking a lot of responsability and stress off the guides and diversificate it on their whole network. This means the network will grow and guides will take over the responsability for stimulating their people to participate.
Second 'Managing' because a guide will in this case be more of a curator/ cultural manager. The guide makes sure his network is participating, checks the added contributions and adresses his network when more content is needed. He can get help by inviting a co-guide (another guide) who helps him perfectionize the content of the city-page or collaborate with other guides. In the end it's the people that live in that city who are responsable for the promotion and presentation of that city, not just one person or we from Mediamatic.
When the relation is established and visitors or guides choose to contact eachother there should be a place on the website where their communication is visible. By sending the guide a message, the communication remains private and leads the participation away from our website the moment the contact is being established. This we don't want, because in order to make participation a succes, people need to come back to our website, learn how to use it and keep on creating and consuming content.
The website already has some excellent communcation-tools that ensure this: The 'like this' button and 'comment'. In order to stimulate their use, they need to have a prominent place and we need to communicate their functionality better. Also an e-mail notification is obligatory to establish a relation when someone likes the page or comments on someone's page.
In order to ensure the participation on the Mediamatic Travelwebsite, we need to adress the visibility, co-operation and communication between users. Now the ins and outs in the Mediamatic Travel website are not visible, the primary communication and interaction is taking place outside of our website and their is no system which ensures participators will feel recognized or rewarded for their work. Hopefully introducing ratings will make online interactions visible and worth it. Linking members using dating-tools will ensure users can find people that might mean something to them and lower the barriers of contacting them. Intermediating will introduce a whole new artistic network to our website which will assist the guide in promoting the city. The guide will curate the conributions made and promote them to potential visitors. This will result in a healthy dynamic and co-operation between artists within the website. Hence, the term DIT (Do It Toghether) is more appropriate than the term DIY and doing things toghether inevitable means communicating and participating.
Kollock, P. (1999). The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace. in Smith, Marc; Kollock, Peter. Communities in Cyberspace. London: Routledge. pp. 220–239.
Lange, P.G. (2007). Commenting on Comments. Investigating Responses to Antagonism on YouTube. Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, Tampa, Florida, 31 Maart, 2007.