Inhabiting the virtual city
Judith S. Donath


  1. August 1995 estimates put the number of Internet users - people who can browse the Web, send email, participate in on-line discussions - at 20-30 million. ( Quarterman 1996). Access increased an estimated 50% between August 1995 and March 1996, along with changing demographics. The newer users come from a broader socio-economic background and are more likely to use the net for personal reasons ( CommerceNet/Nielsen 1996). [Return]

  2. See Lakoff and Johnson 1980 for a full treatment of the cognitive role of metaphor; Eco 1984 for a semiotic and philosophical approach. [Return]

  3. Plato wrote that the ideal population of a city was 5000, Aristotle said that each citizen should know all others by sight ( Kitto 1957). For the ancient Greeks, the city was a not a place of strangers; it was an extensive, but familiar community. [Return]

  4. The solitude of the Web - there are few mechanisms for encountering or communicating with any of the millions of other visitors - is one of its main drawbacks as a social technology. Chapter 4 discusses designs for alleviating this. [Return]

  5. An equally common dystopian view shows cyberspace as an anarchic wilderness filled with anonymous beings acting with complete and heedless freedom. [Return]

  6. The traditional `tragedy of the commons' example is the village grazing green. If everyone is careful to allow their sheep to consume only their allotted portion, all will benefit by having access to this common property. If a few take more than their share, the green may still survive, and the free-riders will (unfairly) benefit by receiving more. If too many take more than their share, all will suffer since the green will become over-grazed and barren. Kollock and Smith examined Usenet news as a communications common, in which the free-riders were those abusing the technology (such as those who flood newsgroups with commercial messages) and those who read but do not contribute. [Return]

  7. Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroup members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings and, upon judging a poster to be a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they - and the troll - understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. [Return]

  8. This is also an identity based phenomenon. AOL users, accustomed to the anonymity and fleeting identities of their service's chatrooms, are more likely to see the net as a role playing environment. People who log-in from a work or school site know that unacceptable behavior on-line can have real consequences for them in their job or university. The person logging in from a commercial service, however, is less answerable, risking only the loss of that account. [Return]

  9. The goal of much advertising is to induce this use of ``goods as satisfiers'' ( Leiss et al. 1990) - to transfer the meaning of the idealized lifestyle to the advertised good so that the consumer will buy the good as a symbol of the idea. ( Fiske 1989a; McCracken 1988; Leiss et al. 1990). [Return]

  10. Many of the most colorful images are graphics supplied by commercial sites to go with links to them. There are home pages that are essential advertising bill-boards for products and services ranging from browsers to shoes to entertainment conglomerates. A study of the construction virtual identity through commercial symbols would be quite interesting: the presentation of self as advertising medium. [Return]

  11. The active jury members were: Erkki Huhtamo (Professor of Media Studies, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland); Machiko Kusahara (Associate Professor of Media Art, Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics); William Mitchell (Dean, MIT School of Architecture); Michael Naimark (Media artist, Interval Research Corporation); Itsuo Sakane (Professor, Keio University Environmental Information Science Department); Jeffrey Shaw (Director of the Institute fur Bildmedien at the ZKM Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnology, Karlstruhe); and John Thackara (Director, Netherlands Design Institute, Amsterdam). I was the curator, as well as the site designer and implementer. [Return]

  12. E.g., some entrants tried to circumvent the limit of three entries per person by entering three works under their own name and additional ones under the name of a wife or friend. [Return]

  13. Not surprisingly, signed comments tend to be positive, or at least thoughtful. Hostile or childishly rude comments are almost invariably anonymous. There is little one can do to verify a name given in a Web form, short of implementing a protected site in which passwords are mailed to applicants for admission, thus guaranteeing that they have at least provided a valid email address. Here, I have relied on the style of the site to set the tone of the discussion, which by and large has worked. (This includes removing comments that are simultaneously hostile and pointless.) [Return]

  14. Viewing the commentary is optional. The artworks are each displayed on their own page, with a link to the comments. Most visitors view many pieces, but follow the commentary to only a few. (Having an interface that forced one to view the comments on all pieces would be like wandering through a museum on a day when it was also visited by many loud and opinionated, but not necessarily knowledgeable, tourists.) [Return]

  15. I have no hard demographic data about who are the visitors to the site, but it is likely that the audience for the Portraits site is broader than for the average gallery or museum show, limited as the latter are to people who consider museum-going to be a worthwhile leisure time activity and who are interested in the works on display. The Portraits site is easier to get to, a journey of a few minutes rather than an afternoon. [Return]

  16. Of course, the context for the discussion, i.e. the contents of the page, has the greatest impact on its tone. A conference on a page devoted to molecular biochemistry will attract a very different crowd than one on a page filled with ``Hot Pix of Big Chix''. [Return]

  17. Some discussions are truly public, open to anyone in the community who wishes to join. Others are public in the way a table at a restaurant is public: one can see who is sitting there, but does not join without an invitation. But they are not secret: their existence and memberships is public knowledge. [Return]

  18. The number of colors the human visual system can distinguish is debatable. Tufte gives a range of 20,000 for the average viewer to 1,000,000 for trained subjects doing pair-wise comparisons ( Tufte 1990). Hochberg states there are 350,000 distinguishable colors, though he does not specify the viewing condition ( Hochberg 1978). [Return]

  19. Though again, no hard and fast rule can be made. People easily perceive orange to be ``between'' red and yellow, yet green is not so intuitively between yellow and blue, even though it has an analogous place in the spectrum, and, like orange, can be produced by the subtractive mixing of the surrounding primaries. Hochberg provides a full discussion on color perception and it's relationship to the visible light spectrum ( Hochberg 1978). [Return]

  20. Though Alexander does not mention natural selection, his account very much in the spirit of Darwinian evolution and its explanation of how a simple process can, over time, produce the most complex formations known. There is some research in using genetic algorithms to simulate evolution as a tool for urban design (e.g. Soddu and Colabella 1995). For a more in-depth discussion of evolution as a cultural force see ( Pinker 1994) on the human language development and ( Hauser 1996) for a very thorough examination of the evolution of communication in both humans and animals. [Return]

  21. By public space I mean any area in which one is likely to encounter other people. In a work environment, for example, the hallways are public space, but one's office is not. This is public space in a social, rather than political, sense. [Return]

  22. For public talks and papers about Visual Who I use images with pseudonyms for both the aliases and user names. [Return]

  23. The use of the word avatar to describe these representations was coined simultaneously by the developers of Habitat, an early graphical chat system ( Morningstar and Farmer 1990), and by Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer whose novel Snow Crash features a well-described and detailed virtual environment ( Stephenson 1992). [Return]

  24. By conversations I mean group discussions (i.e. not private exchanges of email) that have a reasonably interactive discourse structure (i.e. not periodical newsletters). [Return]

  25. Like real world discussions, on-line chat session can be recorded (for the sake of research or nostalgia) but ordinarily are not. [Return]

  26. The Electric Communities page has links to about 20 systems, and this is far from a complete survey. Unlike MUDs, almost all of which are run - sometimes illegally - by students (or an occasional researcher), most avatar systems are commercial enterprises, created by corporations hoping to eventually realize a profit. [Return]

  27. Environments with a third-person perspective make it much easier for a user to see how he appears to others. This is important for the development of an expressive vocabulary because the way we learn and modify expression in the real world - through imitation, physical sensation and the mirror of our effect on others - does not exist in the virtual world. On-line, we need to see what others are seeing. (Of course, in real life people are often quite surprised to see how they appear when captured on film or video - hence the image consulting firms that help one make the right gestures and expressions). [Return]

  28. This web site was designed in conjunction with Art Technology Group and was implemented by them. ATG's Dynamo environment provided the dynamic page creation, session tracking and database server that made the capsules, Web-o-grams, people watching, comment rating, etc. possible. See their site for more technical details. [Return]