Dormlife Frequently Asked Questions
In reference to Agre’s concept of ‘the capture model’, how would Dormlife alter the behavior of its users?
One of the conditions for Agre’s ‘capture model’ is that a large amount of information is “captured”. Computer programs then filter through this information to look for certain identity markers of the subjects. This identity can then be targeted for economic niches, “the organization of personal information as the commodity” (738). Dormlife would work in the same way in that it would surmise the identity of a user through a collection of data about location, events at those locations and the media associated with those locations. It would then use that identity to best cater certain advertisements to the users that are deemed relevant to the user’s lifestyle. In this way, the ‘capture model’ of Dormlife reinforces the behavior of its users; it spits back out to the user products that it believes will speak to the user as a subject. It also introduces the subject to products that fit with his or her identity thus introducing the user to new products to incorporate into this behavior. The capture model works to reinforce and speak to already existing behaviors.
How does Dormlife address issues of identity security and privacy?
Dormlife focuses primarily on location. You find people through location, and their Dormlife location doesn't betray their privacy any more than a real location could. To see a user’s profile and their currently living situation or any of the information or media they add to Dormlife, you must ‘knock on their door’ or find them through roommates that you are friends with (if the set to allow this latter option). Just like in the real world, you can go up to strangers’ doors and knock, so (also just like in the real world) privacy is dependent on the intelligence and caution of the user.
The user is in control of how their information is displayed. Anytime they post anything, they will be given the options to make the information available to everyone, make it available to only ‘roomies,’ or select a custom group of people who can see. There is one exception: the room journal is always visible to anyone who has lived in that location. When choosing who can see the content, you may also choose how you sign the content. Dormlife provides two signature options: sign as your room number and year, or sign as anonymous (which simply doesn't provide any information, not even “anonymous’, just the content). You may sign the content with you name, but Dormlife will not; Dormlife only shows your name inside your dormroom webpage. The user always has the ability to delete what they have added to any part of the site.
With so much potential anonymity, users may fear the possibility of identity theft. Dormlife would need to have some relationship with the institutions it hopes to focus on. Dormlife would need some verification system which may rock the socks off some student privacy advocates; if a website can ask for confirmation down to the specifics of which room you live in, the world has ended as anti-”the man” hippies and whiny criminals who have something hide know it. It is not possible to trust college students, their universities and a website made by college students with the responsibility of confirming student room assignment in a way that is not dangerous for the student? Perhaps not, but if the student says they want their institution to tell Dormlife where they live–for the sake of the honesty and thus the effectiveness of the site–and if the institution agrees to work along, why should theorists highlight the possibility that it might be used improperly? (Because that is their job...) Just remember the following: computers “can only compute with what it captures” (749), meaning that like with any social networking site, the user and in this case, the academic institution, get to decide what information they are willing to risk to a website. Dormlife can only capture the information that is submitted to it.
Societies are defined by their location and inhabitants. Facebook and MySpace are profile-centric social networking sites, where the main focus of the society is its inhabitants. Facebook initially seemed to have some formal focus on location, as every user was required to be registered at a school. This eventually broadened to allow high school, and then eventually Facebook networks became almost unlimited including any city or place of work (and by allowing users to not have a network). Facebook used to provide a network webpage for each network, but eventually ended this. Facebook now seems to be it’s own world, with the different user pages being different locations. With the profile being such a focus of the Facebook site, privacy is obviously important to consider. Facebook, as it name implies, allows users to browse through people in the form of profiles of information. In contrast, Dormlife centers information on the location in which an event occurs. Because the focus is not individual people but instead the spaces that they inhabit, privacy most likely would be less of an issue than with a social networking site such as Facebook. The purpose of Dormlife is not to reveal personal information about oneself such as in Facebook; the purpose is to create a digital community through physical spaces.
Jamie Lynn Harris