CGT 581: Online Communities and Digital Relationships


I’m offering a course for Fall 2020 at Purdue that will focus on “communities” (in all the glorious, messy usage of that word) and “relationships” (ditto) in digital contexts. This course has no prerequisites.

The course description is:

“This course provides an in-depth exploration of the role of digital technologies in modern social relationships. Students will develop a nuanced understanding of the strengths, limitations, and side effects of current technological dependencies with regard to how we structure and manage our social lives. As part of the course, each student will investigate a social management platform (such as Facebook, Twitter, Discord, etc.) through a semester-long project that questions the entanglements of that platform with the relationships it facilitates or hinders. This project may take the form of a design project, an essay, a literature review, or an original study, depending on the students’ educational goals.”

Preliminary Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the course, students will be able to:

  • Develop arguments for the strengths, weaknesses, and side effects related to the role of digital technologies in community and relationship management
  • Identify and evaluate various types of research or design techniques related to their original research or design goals
  • Identify and distinguish between types of communities and specific community theories
  • Select and justify appropriate community lenses for investigating a particular social phenomenon


The course will focus on engaging in readings and reading discussions (30%), research and/or design exercises and analysis reports related to an area of interest (25%), and the completion of a research or design project (depending on the students’ interest) and final report (45%).


A sample of *possible* readings (a finalized list will be created over the Summer) includes:

Courtney Blackwell, Jeremy Birnholtz, and Charles Abbott. “Seeing and being seen: Co-situation and impression formation using Grindr, a location-aware gay dating app.” New media & society 17, no. 7 (2015): 1117-1136.

Jed R. Brubaker, Mike Ananny, and Kate Crawford. “Departing glances: A sociotechnical account of ‘leaving’ Grindr.” New Media & Society 18, no. 3 (2016): 373-390.

Rita Dirks. “Forgetting Friendship: Redefining Friendship in the Age of Techno-Reality.” A Global Perspective on Friendship and Happiness (2019): 49.

Shelly D. Farnham and Elizabeth F. Churchill. 2011. Faceted identity, faceted lives: social and technical issues with being yourself online. In Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work (CSCW ’11). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 359–368. DOI:

Martin Goyette. “Social Networks and Social Support in the Transition to Adulthood.” Leaving Care and the Transition to Adulthood: International Contributions to Theory, Research, and Practice (2019): 31.

Roderick Graham, and Shawn Smith. “The content of our# characters: Black Twitter as counterpublic.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2, no. 4 (2016): 433-449.

Oliver L. Haimson, Jed R. Brubaker, Lynn Dombrowski, and Gillian R. Hayes. 2015. Disclosure, Stress, and Support During Gender Transition on Facebook. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW ’15). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1176–1190. DOI:

Blake Hallinan. “Like! Feelings and Friendship in the Age of Algorithms.” PhD diss., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2019.

Henry Jenkins and Mizuko Ito. Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

Miranda Joseph. Against the romance of community. U of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Eric Klinenberg. 2018. Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. Broadway Books.

Yubo Kou, Colin M. Gray, Austin L. Toombs, and Robin S. Adams. 2018. Understanding Social Roles in an Online Community of Volatile Practice: A Study of User Experience Practitioners on Reddit. Trans. Soc. Comput. 1, 4, Article 17 (December 2018), 22 pages. DOI:

Ahreum Lee, Austin L. Toombs, Ingrid Erickson, David Nemer, Yu-shen Ho, Eunkyung Jo, and Zhuang Guo. 2019. The Social Infrastructure of Co-spaces: Home, Work, and Sociable Places for Digital Nomads. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 3, CSCW, Article 142 (November 2019), 23 pages. DOI:

Ray Oldenburg. 1999. The great good place: Cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community. Da Capo Press.

Marwick, Alice E., and danah boyd. “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience.” New media & society 13, no. 1 (2011): 114-133.

Tyler Pace, Austin Toombs, Shad Gross, Tony Pattin, Jeffrey Bardzell, and Shaowen Bardzell. 2013. A tribute to Mad skill: expert amateur visuality and world of Warcraft Machinima. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’13). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2019–2028. DOI:

Katarina Stanoevska-Slabeva, and Beat F. Schmid. 2001. “A typology of online communities and community supporting platforms.” In Proceedings of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, pp. 10-pp. IEEE.

Toombs et al., Algorithmically Generated Online Spaces (in press).

Austin L. Toombs, Derek Whitley, and Colin M. Gray. 2020. Autono-preneurial Agents in the Community: Developing a Socially Aware API for Autonomous Entrepreneurial Lawn Mowers. In Companion of the 2020 ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 69–82. DOI:

Austin L. Toombs, Andy Dow, John Vines, Colin M. Gray, Barbara Dennis, Rachel Clarke, and Ann Light. 2018. Designing for Everyday Care in Communities. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’18 Companion). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 391–394. DOI:

Austin L. Toombs, Kellie Morrissey, Emma Simpson, Colin M. Gray, John Vines, and Madeline Balaam. 2018. Supporting the Complex Social Lives of New Parents. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’18). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Paper 420, 1–13. DOI:

Austin L. Toombs. 2017. Hackerspace Tropes, Identities, and Community Values. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1079–1091. DOI:

Austin L. Toombs, Shaowen Bardzell, and Jeffrey Bardzell. 2015. The Proper Care and Feeding of Hackerspaces: Care Ethics and Cultures of Making. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 629–638. DOI:

Sonja Utz. “Social Network Sites as Vehicles for Effective/Ineffective Social Support.” Social Support and Health in the Digital Age (2019): 1.

Etienne Wenger. 2011. “Communities of practice: A brief introduction.”