Newbs, N00bs and Elitists: Neologisms for learners and teachers in open online communities

The openness of online communities is one of the things that make them so exciting. Anyone, anywhere, can create an account and start participating. The more I think about some of the research I did on the more I think that the neologisms for dispositions of a few different kinds of users on the site capture some important parts of defining teachers and learners in open interest driven web communities. In this post I will briefly describe how the terms Newbs, N00b and Elitist Bastards expressed in the ground rules of the RPGmakerVX community serve to define the roles for learners and teachers in this space.

As a frame of reference, is an online discussion board where those interested in creating SNES looking role-playing games congregate to discuss, develop, and share their projects. Elsewhere I’ve written about how this operates as a community of learners. When I first visited the site though, I was struck by the discussion boards simple guidelines.

Eletist Bastardly Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

The following appears at the top of the Board Rules page. For our purposes, the first prime directive and its first bullet point are particularly relevant.

This prime directive classifies three kinds of users. First and foremost, the elitist bastard, the kind of person who is not tolerated on the boards. The elitist bastard refuses to understand the difference between two different kinds of new members to the site, the newb and and n00b. Before parsing through all of this in a bit more depth it is worth following the link for newb and n00b from the rules to see how the terms are used here. Following the link leads to this comic from CTL+ALT+DELETE

Glossary: Newb/Noob

The following is the comic linked to from the discussion boards. (Actually it looks like the link is broken now but this is what it linked to a few months back.) This 2006 web comic walks through the distinctions between these two terms for gamers who are new to a particular game.

The newb is inexperienced, but is wants to learn and when given guidance is happy to take it and act on it. In contrast, the n00b, while similarly clueless is unwilling to submit to respect the elders, the gamers who know how to play the game, or in this case the game makers who have developed expertise. The comic explains what , “newbs should be cared for and nurtured so that they may grow into valuable skilled players” while “N00bs deserve our wrath” and our apparent pity as they are likely to have problems in finding or making any meaningful relationships.

Newbs Respect the Authority/Wisdom of the Open Knowledge Community, N00bs are Unwilling to Learn the Ground Rules for Being a Novice

These neologisms are widespread. Turning to the OED of Internet slang, the Urban Dictionary. We find that a newb is “A term used to describe a inexperienced gamer/person/etc. Unlike a noob, a newb is someone who actually wants to get better.” Aside from just being part of the rules of the community, when I asked participants in my study of the RPG Maker VX community what the difference between a N00b and a newb most of the participants could parse the difference between the two terms.

The Elitist Bastard Fails to Nurture the Novice

The elitist bastard is one who fails to recognize the difference between new learners. There is almost no barrier to entry to All you need to do is sign up for an account to join and start posting. This means that new community members are going to need to be vetted and filtered after they have already come in the virtual door and started talking. Some of the new users are newbs, that is individuals who are want to learn to make games and are willing to show deference to the elders of this online community. Some of those users are n00bs, who are unwilling to do things like read the FAQ, read stickied posts on how to ask questions and post about their projects, and when told follow the rules will simply become disgruntled and argumentative. In short, experienced members of the community need to know who to nurture and who to moderate, call out, and judge for not respecting the rules of the community.

Necessary Neologisms for Learning on the Open Web?

I’m curious to hear from those who talk about learning webs, about massively open online courses, or for that matter any bread of open online education projects about this. It strikes me that the story of is very similar to my experience with any number of online communities. Things like open source communities, fan fiction communities, photo sharing communities on sites like Flickr, the guild of Wikipedians, each seem to have this kind of operational structure. Are these necessary neologisms for learning on the open web, or are newbs, n00bs, and elitist bastards just 1337 way of talking about things we already have names for?

My First Citation! Not my writing but my gaming?

Well it’s happened. I have been cited for my work! While it would be fun to say that it was one of my fantastic research articles, it is actually for my chops as a Druid a few years back in World of Warcraft.

See the excerpt below from Kurt Squire‘s book Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

I still do look forward to the day when someone actually cites one of my papers or my book (ideally in a positive way). With that said, there is something kind of cool in knowing that my exploits as a Druid have been immortalized in print.

To add one more layer to the story for folks who know WoW: While I was healing in Molten Core, and switched to bear form to pick up agro, I was in fact specced as a Moonkin Druid at the time. So I was actually doubly out of my element. Oh, and in the fight I was tanking one of the Sulfuron Harbinger adds.

I do like that my story falls under the heading of “The Fantasy of Being an Expert. I can relate to that 🙂

Please Write it Down: Design and Research in the Digital Humanities

As Theory Fight 2011 rages on among the DH twitter folk I feel compelled to interject in something that is more than 140 characters. Which brings me here.

Last night Tom Scheinfeldt provocatively suggested,

DH arguments are encoded in code. I disagree with the notion that those arguments must be translated / re-encoded in text.

It struck up quite a back and forth over twitter, which anyone interested can peruse on Natalia Cecire’s blog. The conversation makes for a good read.  What I see as the key issue to think through here is not so much should Digital Humanists also need to “re-encode” their work in writing. Reflective designers of all stripes are already doing a lot of writing. They are creating documentation, making wireframes, etc. The question here is what kinds of writing should humanities scholars who design software and make things in code be doing.

Writing is Thinking and Designers Write Things Too

Everybody working on a DH projects needs to be writing. I am suggesting that this is simply a fact of life. If you don’t have at least a one-pager for your project  you don’t have a project, you are just fiddling around. In fact, the process of doing purposeful design involves the creation of documentation at nearly every step.  As I recently suggested, every document and artifact that you would create in the process of design could serve as a new genre of humanities scholarship. For starters, practically everything in Dan Brown’s Communicating Design already almost looks like the kinds of things we already write.

As I see it, it is not that you need to translate what you did in code into text. Instead, to have made something interesting in code you have to have gone through a reflective process that inevitably creates a wake of valuable texts that were central to both the creation of the argument the code makes and are the most potentially viable at communicating that argument. You probably only need to clean them up a little bit. Even better, many of these projects are the result of grant funded work. In those cases the text already exists. The creator needed to make an argument for what the thing we were going to make was supposed to do.

With this said, I would also suggest that at the end of a project (Or whatever it is we are calling donetaking time to sit down and write out what you learned is invaluable as part of reflective practice. Again, in my own experience, far from being a moment when you translate something you already knew into another format, this is the reflective moment in which what it is that you actually learned comes into focus. This is not about writing it up, instead taking a few moments at the end of a project to reflect on what it is you wanted to accomplish, what actually happened, and what it is you learned from the process is invaluable not only for communicating these things but for actually really coming to know them.

With Design and Humanities Research we are Still Only Beginning

So people who make stuff have to write a lot about what they are doing as part of the process of making stuff. This kind of writing is simply part of being a reflective designer. With that said, I think we are still only scratching the surface of what the process of design could mean for humanities scholarship.

Having my feet in both the DH world and the world of educational research I would also like to point people to a conversation that has been going on about design and research in work in instructional technology. About 12 years ago educational technologists started talking about something they call design based research. In this case, the idea is that instead of contriving wonky experimental designs it would be better for researchers to take on the role of designer and think through how the iterative practice of design could be made a bit more formal and thought of as a research method. The idea behind design based research is that there is some kind of hybrid form of doing, theorizing, building and iterating that we should turn into a methodology.

For anyone interested I would suggest reading Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry (pdf) and Design Based Research: Putting a Stake in the Ground  (pdf). A quote from the first article does a nice job showing how this might pull together some of the threads around theory, practice and method.

Design based researchers’ innovations embody specific theoretical claims about teaching and learning, and help us understand the relationships among educational theory, designed artifact, and practice. Design is central in efforts to foster learning, create usable knowledge, and advance theories of learning and teaching in complex settings.

In short, Yes, design’s always have explicit and implicit arguments inside them. However, I reflective designers produce a range of artifacts and documents in the process of design that, if shared, could both help them become better designers and help others learn to become better designers. Further, the idea of design based research offers the potential for us to think more deeply and not simply absorb the design practices of others. What would a design based research method look like if we translated it from the educational context and into the context of a particular humanities research question?

Finding Scholarship and Scholarship Finding Us

Melissa Terras has a great post up about what happens when you tweet an open access paper. Seriously, go read it. The details are interesting, but the main point is that 535 people who wouldn’t have seen her paper at least went through the trouble of downloading it. Now aside from the fact that more downloads = more people seeing your paper I think Melissa’s example is all the more important because of the kind of diffuse way those people came to find her work.

How would one find Melissa’s article?

I would suggest that there are a few different ways that someone would find Melissa’s article. Her article, “Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation” (PDF) was published in Literary and Linguistic Computing (LLC) in 2009. I would suggest that, before tweeting the open access link, there were two primary modes in which people came across her paper.

  1. You see LLC as an important journal in your field and you have been involved in the field since before 2009. So, whenever a new issue of the journal comes out you read over the table of contents and consider skimming the articles. In this case you know about Melissa’s article because you are ambiently aware of what is going on in the community that LLC represents.
  2. You have decided to write a paper that is in some way related to amateur digitization or some other keyword that is associated with her paper, so you either sought out and got into the Oxford journals website or found the article as part of an explicit search process . In this case you likely already have a research question in mind. Heck, lets face it, you may well already have the whole study put together and you are just working on making sure that you have covered information that is related to the project. Unlike the first, there is a good chance that you might not even identify with the LLC community. That is, being a part of the search results in any kind of research aggregation thing is that your research is discovered by people outside your field.

Tweeting the Paper is Important Because of Who Those Readers Were

What is particularly important about the 535 readers who found downloaded the Open Access copy is that they found that paper as part of an ambient awareness, like what the table of contents in the journal did in 2009, but unlike the table of contents, the somewhat more heterogeneous community of people who follow Melissa on Twitter are the ones who get that ambient information. In short, the tweet contributes to an interdisciplinary ambiant awareness.
Now beyond this, as Melissa can at any moment tweet about this paper again she has the added ability to interject a link to her paper on twitter, or in any other place in the public sphere and get it back into part of the ambient awareness on any number of other topics.

Studying Discourse Online is Studying Designed Experience

Young people participating in fan fiction forums are learning English as a second language. People arguing about Preist tallents in the World of Warcraft forms are participating in informal science learning and reasoning. Hip hop discourse in online forums can help us engineer financial literacy into learning environments. Folks participating in forums for RPG Maker are learning to take and give criticism. Everywhere you look researchers are studying discourse online, but we don’t necessarily know that much about how that discourse is shaped by the people that build and administrate the software that enables that discourse. As I’ve mentioned, this is the subject for a research project I am working on, I wanted to take a moment to share a few early examples and ideas I have on how this might be working.

Discourse on the Web is a Result of Designed Experience

For starters, discussions on the web are the result of designed experience, you shouldn’t study them without taking into account the functionality of the software that enables them. The designers and administrators of those spaces have set them up to enable particular kinds of communication and to ensure that other kinds of interaction do not occur.

For example, here is how Derek Powazek explained the role of software tools in Design for Community: the art of connecting real people in virtual places:

This is all about power. Giving your users tools to communicate is giving them the power. But we’re not talking about all the tools they could possibly want. We’re talking about carefully crafted experiences, conservatively proportioned for maximum impact. ( Powazek, xxii)

So How Do Forum Designers and Administrators Shape Discourse?

So, what do the folks who manage, run, and build web forums think about their end users? Further, how do their theories about the goals, motivations, and desires of those users shape the way that they enable them to interact with each other. One of the places I am looking for answers to these questions is in guidebooks for web forum administrators. I should give a more full rundown of what books I am looking at, but I thought it would be fun to share some of the kinds of examples I have found of how the books are talking about users and the resulting implications for design that they suggest. I am still just at the beginning of this research project, but I wanted to share some of these examples for comment. The following are a few preliminary examples. I will share more examples as they show up, but wanted to put these out there for anyone to react to.

Explicit Public Rules

The most obvious way that community managers influence the content which people share on these sites is through enforcing explicit rules. Practically all of the books in this genre I have read so far explain the importance of having and enforcing these kinds of explicit rules. Here Patrick O’Keefe explains the importance of rules:

Respect is the cornerstone of a good environment. You create a respectful community by requiring that everyone treat everyone else with the respect they deserve. You do this by having written policies and by actively enforcing those policies. (O’Keefe, 219)

Using Design to Filter Who Participates

In  primary lessons for design is to “bury the post button.” He suggests the more effort that is required to get to the point where someone can post a comment will result in higher quality discussion.

Why would this be? because, in this case, the multiple clicks it takes to read the whole story are actually acting as a great screening mechanism. Users who are looking for trouble or aren’t really engaged in your content will be put off by the distance. They’ll drift away. But the users who are engaged by the content and interested in the results of the conversation will stick with it.(53)

In Community Building Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities on the Web Amy Jo Kim gives very similar advice:

“What you want to do is create appropriate hurdles for member contributions, particularly those that extend the public space within your community…It’s up to you to figure out the restrictions that best meet the needs of your members and support the kind of community you are trying to create. (Kim, 71)

Aside from any explicit rules designers of these community spaces are using design as a filter. It is a kind of soft power that shapes the way that we interact with each other online and anyone studying interactions online should think about how the design of the space might be acting as filter

Tricking users and distorting reality

Explaining that “Creativity never hurts when you’re trying to get major league idiots off your community.” O’Keefe provides a few creative ideas.

Sometimes referred to as global ignore, you can incorporate a function that lets the banned user log in but then makes this user go unseen to all users of your community. The banned user cannot receive private messages, and if he tries to send them, they don’t reach the intended users. He can still make his posts, but only he ( and maybe you and your staff) can see the posts– no one else. Basically, in his eyes, the site works as is intended. He will just think that everyone is ignoring him and go away. (O’Keefe, 215)

In this case, an administrator can let a user think they are participating in the conversation when no one else can see what they are saying. Worse than being silenced, the user still thinks they are part of the conversation.

In short, the designed experience of web community spaces is not something that can be read in any straightforward fashion. At the very least, to say something about a community you need to understand the explicit guidelines and rules. But beyond this, without understanding the intentions and tactics of developers and administrators it is going to be difficult to know how exactly they are implicitly shaping the structure and nature of the discourse. It’s my intention to try and work through this relationship between designers, administrators and users in my project.

What are some other examples of ways designers and administrators shape discourse online?