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January 07, 2004

The Turing Game (Amy Bruckman)

In the early days of poststructuralist cyberculture research, people believed that the digital world would finally relieve people of the identities that are written on the body: sex, age, race, etc. People could be whoever they wanted to be. Many people, including myself, took issue with this belief. Amy Bruckman did something about it. Along with Josh Berman, she invented The Turing Game. In this project, people were assigned an identity that they were to perform. Everyone could ask each other questions to try to figure out who was "real" and who was "fake." The results were astonishing. People are *really* good at identifying others' identities when they are trying to.

Commenters have asked how i could possibly know the identity of bloggers. Most bloggers aren't performing: they're being themselves. As such, information about their identity leaks through. It's not a surefire metric and anyone who is trying could probably fool me. But bloggers often talk about what is important to them. Even easier, many bloggers reveal what's written on the body through pictures in their About section. Often the topics that people write about or the way they present their argument speaks volumes about their identity and philosophy on life. For example, people talk about their "wives" or use inclusive/exclusive language when talking about particular groups of people, identifying their relationship to that group. They post about things that matter to them. This doesn't mean that all gay boys post about gay culture, but, frankly, very few straight boys do.

Anyhow, surf around at various sites and see what you can guess about the authors. Sometimes, too little is available to even begin to make a guess. But usually...

Posted by zephoria at 09:21 PM in Academia | Permalink


Bloggers tell you what they want you to know about them, which is not necessarily complete, accurate, or true.

It is terribly easy to fool people who aren't on their guard, and even sometimes those who are.

Posted by: Julius at Jan 7, 2004 11:26:20 PM

A social environment where people are specifically licenced to ask probing questions about identity is surely a bit different from blogging. In blogging, the information stream is mainly one way and questions outside the scope defined by the writing style and the comment culture that has evolved at that site are often considered quite rude.

I tend to believe that information gleaned from blogs about people's identity is mostly accurate, simply because the percentage of people who tend to defect from social obligations about mutual disclosure is fairly low (it's probably somewhat higher online than off though) rather than because the audience is terribly alert about fake identities.

As far as Julius's point goes, there's also the larger group of people who tell you what they like to believe about themselves, which is never going to be complete, and at times won't be accurate either.

Posted by: Mary at Jan 8, 2004 5:43:01 AM

what's with the "gay boy" and "straight boys" terminology? Are you talking about teen blogs? Because, and I could be wrong (but), if misterbehaving.com, a fictitous group blog of men in the legal field, let's say, used the terms "gay girls (or gals)" and "straight girls (or gals)" you might do a double take. Non?

As for identity in blogging, it used to be easier because we truly knew one another. Our ciricles were small enough to care for, speak to (evolving relationships to snail mail and phone), and relate to one another more readily. But relationships are expanding here into new circles, we post in and out ofo one another's lives in ebbs and flows, and really "knowing" bloggers is, I think, getting more difficult.

As blog reading evolves more into entertainment for me than as a way to keep up with my friends, watching folks play around with identity has become more interesting. Dishonesty, even falsness, become easier to tolerate. This, I think, is ultimately sad but predictable as the medium evolves.

Posted by: jeneane at Jan 8, 2004 5:08:21 PM

Jeneane - my apologies for offending you. In my community of queers, we usually refer to each other as "gay boys" and "dykes" and "trannies." It's localized language. Perhaps i should be more formal and talk about "homosexual men" since i'm not speaking to a queer community, but i wasn't taking a formal stance and thus stuck to the common language present in the queer community to which i belong rather than a PC language which feels so artificial.

Posted by: zephoria at Jan 8, 2004 5:22:28 PM

Oh. No offense taken, but it seemed rather out of the norm for this blog, and so I wondered why no one had asked, "hey, whaz up with that?" Thanks for explaining.

Posted by: jeneane at Jan 9, 2004 9:41:12 AM

Danah, you may be good at reading some cues in blogs, but probably not all. For example, when a man talks about his wife or girlfriend, it does not mean he is straight: bisexuals may be largely invisible in this country, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. (Some sociologists have argued that there are as many bisexuals as there are gays and lesbians, but counting them is much harder given the stigma and lack of bi community.)

Similarly, people who talk about topic that are mostly talked about by white people aren't necessarily white. Lots of middle- and upper-midle-class non-white folks share the same interests and their white counterparts. What you perceive as "white" in blog content is probably more correlated to class than to melanin deficiency.

Posted by: Paul Hoffman at Jan 9, 2004 1:22:16 PM

Very interesting thought...I have never considered this....

Posted by: bob at Jan 12, 2004 12:15:13 AM

I was one of those who didn't know how you know so much about the bloggers you read. But, I think it might be because I read so many. If they ever mentioned their gender then it could be that I missed it. With global blogging the names aren't always a clue.

Sometimes I think that the person is likely a male or a female but was wrong (again) recently when I assumed that the name "Otto" was a man. Sure, all of you probably know it is a woman's name but I didn't.

I've been corrected a time or two so I don't guess anymore when referring to a blog. But there are a few that I read on a regular basis that I am curious about. I suppose it doesn't matter.

Posted by: meg at Jan 12, 2004 5:40:45 PM

The other side to this is that we pass whatever someone may choose to reveal to us in their weblog through our own personal filters, emphasizing/noticing some things while minimizing/ignoring others.

We fill in the blanks (or what seems to be blanks) based on our expectations and biases.

Posted by: Vicki Smith AKA CalGal at Jan 15, 2004 9:48:19 AM

Though one interesting counterpoint is PinkDreamPoppies over at Alas, a Blog. I read the blog and comments for quite awhile--and was impressed with the feminist stance of PDP's contributions--before I found out that PDP is male. Given that the blog often addresses questions of sex and gender and sexual behavior, that was a little bit of a surprise. I realized that part of my assumption was based on his name (how stereotypical is that)--but his comments were way more enlightened than the norm. I suspect what this mostly displays is my own biases about the opinions that people are (to some extent) more likely to hold . . .

Posted by: carla at Jan 15, 2004 12:45:20 PM

I think generally speaking most people, like in real life, put their best foot forward on their blogs - and I do think that this 'foot'print is/can be different across genders, orientations, classes, etc. What is most interesting to me when trying to understand the identity of the writer, is not what they choose to reveal, but what they choose to leave out.

One interesting thing I've noticed since the beginning of the web is the deemphasis on identity. Back in the early days people had "personal sites" with rich about pages, links to all/most of their interests, favorite people, etc. With the advent of tools for the masses (so to speak) I think individuals are becoming more focused - choosing one interest, one side to emphasize rather than trying to let it all out. In this way it's becoming easier to find others with similar interests, easier to hide our faulty sides, and more difficult to determine true identity -what is being said is becoming more important than who (the things that make the who tick, not the name) is saying it.

That said there are definitely lots of caveats, but it's an interesting topic to think about - and even more interesting to think how it's evolving.

Posted by: kiri at Jan 17, 2004 12:23:41 PM