- Q1. Whyte’s basic premise for this research study was that, until that point, direct observations have rarely been used to study people in urban settings. Most times research was done somewhere else (e.g., an experimental setting in a lab) or some other context (e.g., animals), removed from where the phenomenon under study supposedly occurred. Do you see any analogies between Whyte’s approach and studies of people based on observations of what they do and share on social computing platforms? Justify your rationale behind your answer. Also illustrate your answer with a concrete example, e.g., a specific problem/context/situation where such observations gleaned from social computing platforms are invaluable, and arguably more insightful than experimental or laboratory based studies.
- Q2 [20 points]. Whyte noted that plazas were growing and many buildings were built with plazas in front of them. However, although they were not built to be “people’s plazas”, they attracted a lot of people. A variety of people adorned these spaces, and specific plazas were more popular among specific sets of people (e.g. the swingers plaza). However most plazas were underused, although designers built them with good features like ample sunlight. Consider early social computing platforms, MySpace and Facebook. While the latter continues to be successful even today, the latter died in just a few years. Speaking strictly in terms of features, both were similar in many aspects. Drawing from Whyte’s observations of more and less successful plazas, discuss a potential hypothesis behind the success of Facebook over other platforms.
- Q3. Whyte’s study also found that “Musicians and entertainers draw people together [but] it is not the excellence of the act that is important. It is the fact that it is there that bonds people, and sometimes a really bad act will work even better than a good one.” Similarly, in the context of social computing platforms, a variety of external or orthogonal aspects or agencies draw people together. Taking the specific example of Twitter, describe one such aspect or agency where you have found otherwise socially unconnected people to bond together, not necessarily due to the quality of the concerned aspect or agency.
- Q4 . Whyte considers the problem of urban “undesirables” — drunks, drug dealers, and other uncomfortable reminders of how our own lives might turn out “but for the grace of events.” His findings debunk conventional wisdom with an invaluable, counterintuitive insight: rather than fencing places off and flooding them with surveillance cameras, we should aim to make them as welcoming as possible: “The best way to handle the problem of undesirables is to make a place attractive to everyone else”. Social undesirables exist in social computing platforms too; for instance, those who engage in bullying and harassment under the cloak of anonymity. Per Whyte’s findings, it would be less effective to outright ban them, restrict them to specific online communities, or continuously monitor their activities for violations and removals. Describe an approach that social computing platforms could adopt, that, per Whyte’s recommendation, would “make a place attractive to everyone else” and thus “handle the problem of undesirables”. Frame your answer based on any social platform of your choice.