Inhabiting the virtual city
Judith S. Donath


I have been working with Andy Lippman since I arrived at the Architecture Machine Group many years ago. Andy has given me a great deal of freedom to explore new ideas and insightful guidance about which ones to pursue. His willingness to vigorously debate any topic has been instrumental in clarifying and sharpening the concepts in this thesis.

Special thanks to my committee members for their advice and encouragement. From Lee Sproull I have learned a great deal about the sociology of on-line communities. The discussions in her egrp seminar have been very useful and I would like to thank her especially for her astute and thoughtful critiques of my work. Bill Mitchell knows more than perhaps anyone about designing the virtual city and I was very lucky to have his encouragement and guidance.

My work is multi-disciplinary and I have benefited greatly from being able to learn from deep and original thinkers in many fields. Aviv Bergman introduced me to the study of the evolution of communication and I have been very fortunate to learn about this field from the extraordinarily knowledgeable Marc Hauser. The knowledge imparted by Ted Adelson in the field of visual perception and by Neil Gershenfeld on modeling nature has been invaluable.

Discussions with many friends and colleagues have shaped the ideas in this thesis. I would like to especially thank Abbe Don, Paul Dourish, Ken Goldberg, Steve McGeady, Michael Naimark, Howard Rheingold and Jonathan Steuer for sharing their insights and their intellectual enthusiasm. I've spent many, many hours in conversation with my office-mate, Jon Orwant. His assistance with physics and his insistence that everyone must learn perl were quite helpful in building several of the projects.

Jeet Singh, Laura Teodosio, Janet Cahn, Gitta Salomon, Grace Colby, Warren Sack, Jennifer Gonzalez, Amy Bruckman, Laura Brewer, Wendy Plesniak, Shahrokh Yadegari, Diana Hawkins, Mike Hawley, Pattie Maes, and Tod Machover are some of the many friends who supplied support, advice, encouragement, and the occasional and refreshing distraction.

The Garden has been my home base at the Lab. Henry Holtzman, Mike Bove, John Watlington, Walter Bender, Pascal Chesnais, Roger Kermode, Klee Dienes, and Shawn Becker are among those who have made it a very welcoming and entertaining place. I also wish to thank everyone there, and especially Henry, for years of assistance in dealing X-windows, postscript, recalcitrant print queues, etc.

The Media Lab has been an extraordinary environment in which to experiment and learn. The Lab brings together artists, scientists, and engineers in an atmosphere of creative collaboration; in my experience, the people here have been invariably generous with their time and ideas. My deep thanks to Nicholas Negroponte for creating this unique laboratory.

Thanks to Linda Peterson and Santina Tonelli for their guidance through the academic process. And thanks to the sponsors of this work, the Television of Tomorrow research consortium.

My mother, Ethel Donath, has always been convinced that I could do anything I really attempted. Her belief in me was especially encouraging in the long months of writing this thesis.

My husband, Joe Chung, has been my closest colleague in this research. We worked together on projects and he read drafts of the thesis, provided technical assistance, and was willing to discuss issues of virtual identity and community at any time of day or night. His encouragement cheered me through the entire process.

This dissertation is dedicated to the memory of my father, Stephen Henrik Donath (1914-1993). His lifelong quest to formulate the basis of a just society has been the inspiration for this work.

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