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Notes on "The MAIN model for understanding tech effects on credibility"

Notes on "The MAIN model for understanding tech effects on credibility"

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I recently ran across a fascinating paper in  MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning by S. Shayam Sundar titled, "The MAIN Model: A Heuristic Approach to Understanding Technolgy Effects on Credibility."  Given the work that we're doing on recognition, this paper on credibility seemed rather appropriate to dig into for more detail.

Early on, Sundar lays the foundation to say that credibility cannot be effectively determined by considering solely the source of the information.  Specifically, Sundar says, "Ultimately though, source, message, and the medium credibility serve as nominal cues -- a given source is perceived as credible or not, a given message element is perceived as credible or not, and likewise a given medium or media vehicle or channel is perceived as credible or not -- that provide mental shortcuts for effortlessly assessing the believability of information being received."

Instead, Sundar goes on to explain the value of using a cues and heuristic model to better understand how technology plays a role in helping people determine the relative credibility of a site, piece of content, person, etc.  The model Sundar proposes is based from ten years of research from The Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State University -- Modality, Agency, Interactivity, and Navigability (MAIN).

I won't go into the rest of the paper, but suffice to say Sundar explores the various aspects of MAIN in more detail.  While I found the framework quite interesting (especially as I think about how that may apply -- or not -- to MSDN, TechNet and Expression), what I get most from reading papers like this is a fresh perspective on issues I deal with day to day.  I also find myself making multiple connections to areas of study or examples in real life I would not have thought of before.  For example, when talking about heuristics ties to Interactivity, Sundar wrote "Users may be likely to evaluate the system's credibility positively, just as they would evaluate a person with whom they hit it off."  While I joke with my colleagues that all of our work with social media is no different than that of a dating site, the image that popped into my head when I read this was that of a chemistry.com commercial.  Thinking more on this, there is something to be said about the chemistry that occurs between people when they meet.  It would seem that based on how a site triggers (or does not trigger) heuristics tied to interactivity, there may or may not be any chemistry with those coming to the site.

Another example of making connections that otherwise would not have existed were it not for reading this research paper is on this notion of being a good conversationalist.  Over the course of a week I've had a series of conversations on the personal skills (or lack thereof) of others.  One situation was when someone commented that this other person only talks about themselves, never asking about others.  The other situation was when a father jokingly talked about how he taught and modeled social skills to his son through a book (it worked!).  Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but when Sundar talks of "the real value of interactivity is that it gives the user the ability to serve as a source, and not just a receiver of communication"...I think of the need to be a good conversationalist.  As someone working on social experiences, how do the experiences we provide, and the sites we publish help or hinder the notion of being a good conversationalist?  How are we having a conversation with those who come to our experiences?  How do we facilitate the ability for others to be good conversationalists with one another?

Anyway, those were some of my take aways from Sundar's paper.  I'd be curious to hear if others had similar thoughts.  If you had different insights, I'd love to hear them as well.

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