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The strength of weak cooperation: the Web2.0 as a tool to design our visibility in order to expand our network of weak ties

aguiton, christophe and cardon, dominique (2009) The strength of weak cooperation: the Web2.0 as a tool to design our visibility in order to expand our network of weak ties. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece. (In Press)

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Abstract

The Web 2.0 label is now so widespread that it is increasingly difficult to define the boundaries and characteristics of the services it covers. Indeed, the success of Web 2.0 and the extraordinary expansion of users-generated content services, from blogs to the Social Networks as such as Myspace or Facebook, show that we are reaching a major turning point in the use of relational internet. However, it is necessary to define the specificities of the relational character these services. This paper concludes that one the sociological characteristics of these services is that making personal production public creates a new articulation between individualism and solidarity, which reveals the strength of weak cooperation. Web development always contains the community ideal. But the community - whatever it is before or through the digital exchanges between individuals - is usually considered as both voluntary and organised cooperation. In both cases, the cooperation between individuals can be qualified as strong: Common sociability and a set of roles and defined exchange modalities give individuals the feeling that they are part of the community and share a common vision. However, the success of Web 2.0 services shows that its users mobilise much weaker cooperation between individuals. Web 2.0 services allow individual contributors to experience cooperation ex post. The strength of the weak cooperation comes from the fact that it is not necessary for individuals to have an ex ante cooperative action plan or altruist preoccupation. They discover cooperative opportunities only by making their individual production public, i.e. texts, photos, videos etc. This paper tries to propose some sociological interpretation of this characteristic of Web 2.0 based on selected examples. It also tries to understand more why people are not so shy on their practises in social networks where they give a lot of personal information about them and about their tastes and to look at their strategies to have more contacts (or "friends") and to maintain and expand this network of ties. More generally, it tries to propose a broader interpretation of the cooperative individualism paradigm. The rise of Web 2.0 practices seems to contradict many forecasts regarding the form of cooperation and community that were promoted at the beginning of internet practices. Academic debates on internet uses have shaped two very opposite representations of the internet user. The first has been conceived as a utilitarian agent mainly concerned with maximising its own personal interest (searching information, buying and selling for a better price, promoting its competencies and gaining reputation). The second has been defined as an altruist individual motivated by collective action, volunteering, community belonging, public interest and knowledge sharing. This tension between these two conceptions of the web user, often reinforced by academic differences between economists and sociologists, lies at the core of debates about the motivation of free software developers, e-commerce or p2p file sharing. As already shown on many occasions, those two conceptions of users' goals overemphasise users' motivations as an explicit and clear plan of action. In practice, their goals appear to be less-defined, more flexible and pragmatic, and they change when the user's involvement in internet practices is more important, regular and active. Moreover, neither commercial web services nor strong communities of peers linked by a common normative or political goal have developed massively on the internet. In a certain way, they have been overtaken by Web 2.0 practices, which appear to lie somewhere in-between utilitarian and altruist behaviours. The success of Web 2.0 services reveals the user's hybrid motivation where the individualization of the user's goals meets the opportunity of sharing personal expression in a public sphere. Involvement modalities in Web 2.0 practices appear to be more personal and individualistic than has been suggested by promoters of the World Wide Web, who often emphasize the social community of digital worlds. Users of social media services have very individualistic motivations and goals when they begin their internet practice: bloggers want to publish their own production, Flickr or YouTube users want to store their pictures or videos, Wikipedians begin to write an article about their personal concern, people in social networks design their visibility in order to get more contacts or to built their reputation, etc. The idea of horizontal cooperation between participants is not part of the plan of action for users. Sociological explanations of the rise of digital self-production must be found in the dynamic of individualization in contemporary societies: the increase of cultural capital, the desire for uniqueness and visibility, the experimentation with new forms of identity-building and the search for reputation and notoriety. The blurring of the frontier between user and producer is directly linked to individual transformation characterized by the desire for expression and the search for autonomy. Publishing personal thoughts, pictures, comments on public events, cultural taste etc., appears to be a new form of identity-building in individualist societies. However, many commentators have shown that this process of personalization is highly relational. People build their identity through the continuous search for recognition in the eyes of others. That is the reason why contemporary forms of the process of individualisation in our society cannot be understood as solitary and egoistic self-isolation, but as a way of building the composite role of one's own personality in relation to others, corresponding to different social roles. This relational experimentation of identity-role is based on the exchange of individual productions expressing various aspects of the individual's qualities, competencies or activities. But what kind of "personal expression" or "individual productions" people are willing to publish? Up to what level of "shameless" users of social networks are able to go in their attempt to design their visibility? It is one of the challenging issues in the analysis of social interactions in the Web2.0 social networks. Most of the time, however, these individual productions are intimately mixed with cultural products: personal feelings about a song, consumption habits, parodies of commercial movies or ads, sampling music, writing text and comment in the style of etc.. Self-production will not develop if people do not have models produced by cultural industries to copy, parody, sample and compare. This relational life is at the centre of most of the new user-generated services. When content is produced by users themselves, sometimes mixing mass culture product with their own production, they develop interpersonal relations in which their identities are expressed through their production. In a certain way, Web 2.0 services can be characterized by the astonishing rise of public interpersonal relations in mediated communities, the extension of the number of contacts and the growth of a new form of weak friendship.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords:social networks, weak ties, web2.0, weak cooperation
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:198
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:25 Oct 2011 16:11

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