Tuesday, June 13, 2006

But How Would I Look in a White Lab Coat?

Rhetoricians aren't the only people thinking about persuasion and credibility on the World Wide Web; my colleagues in the social sciences study it too. According to the website of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, their mission is to create "insight into how computing products -- from websites to mobile phone software --— can be designed to change what people believe and what they do." Their study of captology or the function of "computers as persuasive technology," aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors, is certainly relevant to the use of digital media and distributed networks in service of the four major trends in political rhetoric that have been covered in Virtualpolitik: 1) social marketing, 2) public diplomacy, 3) risk communication, and 4) institutional branding.

However, given that the coiner of the term, BJ Fogg, is a specialist in evaluating how websites establish their authority, I was surpriseded to see that his most recent post on his blog featured a four-letter word associated with anger, urination, and in certain cultural contexts extreme drunkenness.

The Stanford group conducts Web Credibility Research through a related set of projects and professional associations. Apparently "bonafide academics" are eligible to receive free resources with which to teach the subject to their undergraduates. I am both curious about their offerings and committed to their laudable goals. Nonetheless, their list of carefully researched "design factors" doesn't look that different from the ad hoc evaluation criteria of more idiosyncratic librarians, such as early-adopter Susan Beck.

I also learned about the Credibility Commons on Fogg's blog. Unfortunately, their dormant website seems to indicate that a promising idea for wiki-style deliberation about ethos had failed to generate the necessary virtual community to contribute to it. Of course, I have some theories about why certain web-based collaborative databases fail and others succeed that might be applicable to this case.

Critics who are invested in the Ong-ian position that the Internet may give new primacy to traditional forms of oral culture may be interested in Fogg's social networking start-up as well: YackPack. YackPack is aimed at users who may already trend toward oral/aural venues like Voice Over IP or Podcasting. Perhaps this is yet another indicator of a larger sea change in electronic communication.



Blogger BJ said...

Thanks for writing about my lab at Stanford.

1. You are right: I probably shouldn't have used the word "pissed" to say I'm angry. In some ways I'm glad I broke thee mold -- not what you'd expect from a Stanford researcher. Should I go back and revise? I don't know. This is a blog after all, not an academic paper. You've highlighted one of the tensions of a scientist who blogs: When can you be you the person, and when do you play your scientific role?

2. Web credibility
The teaching resources we offer are pretty good. In the past we shared them only with academics and teachers, but we're pretty sure we're going to post them online soon.

As for the web credibility research . . . we started studying this in 1998, before it mattered to most anyone. After answering many of the big questions through research (see Prominence-Interpretation Theory -- that's the big answer), I shifted gears in about 2003 to study mobile persuasion. One of my graduate students leads the web cred stuff. He'll take this topic with him as he goes to a new university.

Yes, we started a web credibility community to expand the discussion, but it wasn't vibrant. We did most the work, and others mostly listened. My grad student then focused on a handful of academics and industry players who were actively creating new knowledge and publishing. This turned out to be more productive than an online community. You say you may have insights here -- about why some online databases work and some don't. I'd love to hear more. I still thing there's potential here.

3. YackPack
Once you get started, YackPack is the simplest way to send audio messages to a group. It's both fun and serious. I can go on and on about this, but I'll spare you and other folks. Button line: Voice makes life better.

--BJ Fogg

7:55 AM  

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