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Everybody's got issues in Politics
2000: Life after Bill (Lycos News)
The study was conducted
using Web Lab's innovative Reality
Check discussion group, which was created to provide a discussion
space about President Clinton's impeachment hearings.
Unlike the dissonant interaction of public bulletin boards and
chats, Reality Check tried to create online spaces where the participants
have a sense of ownership and belonging.
To do this, it was designed with comparatively high barriers
to entry: Prospective members were asked to fill out a 35-question
form, then had to wait a day or so before being able to take part.
They also had to accept a lower level of anonymity.
Finally, rather than allowing people to jump into the middle
of an asynchronous conversation, each discussion group was begun
at a specific time with a fixed number of participants. You were
there at the beginning or not at all.
The study drew several conclusions, beginning with the assertion
that as the size of a group goes down, the quality of interaction
goes up. It is important, said Web Lab's supervising producer,
Barry Joseph, that groups be small enough so people know who is
there and so they notice who isn't participating.
"They need to be able to track each other," Joseph said.
And while anonymity may be a strong drawing card in the online
world, the Reality Check study shows that decreasing it leads
to better and more trusting interaction between chatters.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with anonymity," Joseph said.
"But when there's too much, accountability just flies out the
While participants in Reality Check weren't asked to give their
real names, they were required to use a consistent login name
and to provide honest and revealing biographies. "What we found,"
Joseph said, "was that people felt anonymous in a good way --
safe to engage in frank, personal dialogue, yet comfortable with
the level of disclosure of the other participants."