Participants in the Spring 2007 Roundtable
Fred Stutzman is a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of
Information and Library Science, and co-founder of ClaimID.com. ClaimID is a leading personal
identity management website that helps people have a say in their online identity. Previously, he
spent five years as a researcher, open source advocate, project manager and director of
technology for ibiblio.org, one of the web's largest hubs of open source technology. Before
ibiblio, Fred worked for The Motley Fool and Nortel Networks in systems engineering and
project management roles.
Miia Akkinen started her studies in the Helsinki School of Economics in 1992, majoring in
information systems science. Miia finished her master's thesis in 1997, and began focusing on
the business use of online communities. She studied the content of Finnish web sites, and learned
that very few companies had sophisticated systems for e-commerce.
Just before her youngest daughter was born in 2005, Miia finished a working paper (pdf) that is a
comprehensive overview on websites with online communities. This research established the
theoretical background for the information she has gathered from electronic focus groups. Miia
has interviewed about 20 members of three online communities, asking members about their
reasons and motivations for joining those online communities. Miia plans to write articles based
on this interview data in the near future.
Paul K. Lawton received his undergraduate and M.A. degrees in Sociology from the University
of Lethbridge (2003/2005). He has been working on a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of
Calgary since 2006. Paul's research has previously centered around online communication and
interaction within community blogs, with a thesis focusing on the ways in which individuals
become distinct on Metafilter.
Paul's current research focuses on how these online community blogs and other online resources
factor into individual health work.
Sarita Yardi is a PhD student in the Human-Centered Computing program in the College of
Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is working with Professor Amy
Bruckman in the Electronic Learning Communities lab within the Learning Sciences and
Technology group. Sarita's current research (pdf) is exploring the design of online communities,
with a focus on social networking and virtual, immersive environments, to encourage youth to
become interested in pursuing computing and technical careers. She is currently designing and
teaching an "Introduction to HCI for Teenagers" curriculum over the summer. Sarita's research
looks to understand the intersections of new forms of digital media and technology with how
people, particularly youth, learn, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Sarita received her Masters in Information Management & Systems at UC Berkeley's School of
Information where she worked with the MacArthur-funded Digital Youth group studying how
youth use digital media in their informal learning environments. She received her BA in
Computer Engineering at Dartmouth College.
Topics for the Spring 2007 Roundtable
1. Personal experiences in graduate school
2. Origins of studying interests
3. Influential people for graduate work
4. Most memorable conference experience(s)
5. Biggest challenges and rewards in graduate school
6. Teaching elementary and high school students about the Web
7. Politicians doing smart things on the Web
8. Brainstorming a "web use" seminar for politicians
9. The future for studying the social dynamics of technology
What have your graduate school experiences been like so far?
Well, lots of classes :) And I've enjoyed them. I did my first year of graduate school part time,
and then I transitioned over to full-time.
So while I am technically a second-year student, this is actually my third year in graduate school.
Some of the highlights were organizing the UNC Social Software Symposium, but the greatest
moment was probably the Aha! moment when I realized that I could easily collect data from
Facebook if I just wrote some software. That inspired me like nothing before.
Hello everyone, and greetings from Finland.
I am a graduate student in the Helsinki School of Economics, in the department of Information
Systems Science. I enjoy studying information systems from the business perspective.
Starting grad school, I was thrust into this position of actually having to think, which I used to
take for granted - "I am thinking all the time!" - but this is different. Though you progress rapidly
in grad school, sometimes you are not progressing fast enough, except now you have looming
deadlines and people expecting "great things." Things also tend to happen that are out of your
control; I always felt one step removed from disaster when I first started doing my own research.
For example, I can remember clearly when I finally started doing my field work for my MA
thesis. I did a study on Metafilter using a framework set out by French Sociologist Pierre
Bourdieu. I was interested in how, in this online community where there were no clear visual
distinctions between users aside from screen names, how people socially positioned themselves.
Some users were clearly seen as "celebrities" within the community, others becoming
"notorious" - the villains, and how most of the others were lumped together in a identity-less
parade of user names that didn't stand out from the group at all. Sociology, I found the question
of "why" to be compelling, and a topic which had not been researched.
This was all rested on a finely tuned prospectus and introductory chapter that talked about this in
relation to Metafilter being a "closed community" - that is, new memberships were closed to the
public. Data collection was going along well - there were certainly challenges Then, I wake up
one morning, and log on to find that Matt (Metafilter's owner) had swung the doors wide open to
the public. All of a sudden, I loose the relatively stable (or at least stabilizing) group of 17000,
and add about 10000 new members in the space of a few weeks. Needless to say, I was terrified!
This changed the whole playing field, and I had to adapt accordingly. It all turned out fine in the
end - there were certainly many interesting things that happened with this influx of new people
signing up, but at the time it seemed like it was the end of the world.
I love the people I get to hang out with on a daily basis! The people in the labs and research
groups in my building are working on fascinating projects. Both the professors and students
always seem so happy to be there. This was the biggest selling point for Georgia Tech to me
when I was choosing between programs.
In my own lab, Electronic Learning Communities, we joke around and laugh a lot. My lab mates
(Andrea, JP, and Kurt) and I love to talk about our research and we find ourselves having
informal ad-hoc conversations about all sorts of interesting things on a regular basis. I think the
most learning and insight I've gotten in my own research has come from these discussions.
The other week Andrea and JP were chatting over IM about something funny (even though they
sit 10 feet from each other) and JP typed LOL in response. Andrea looked over and saw that JP
wasn't laughing at all and called him out on it: "No you're not laughing right now!" I love how
the boundaries between our online and offline lives interplay. It's a fascinating field to be in. I
also often find my personal life and research life overlapping in various ways. I'm friends with
my professors on Facebook and Flickr which I like because I'm always curious what they're up
to, although I'm not sure that they share the same interest.
Click here for the next thread.
What got you interested in your field of study?
In my thesis I looked at how online communities could be used so that they create value both for
customers and companies. I chose this topic because I find online communities and social
software in a more general level a very interesting field of research. A very significant reason
was also the fact that I personally have joined several online communities and they provide a lot
of joy and value for me.
I owe a lot of where I am today to Dan Perkel at Berkeley's iSchool. I was a first year MS
student there and needed a project for my Needs and Usability class and he was beginning his
masters project which was to design an online collaborative storytelling system with 5th graders
at a local school. It sounded like fun to me... I've always loved working with kids and teenagers
and it combined my existing experience and interest in technology and studying people
interacting with it, so I decided to work with him. One thing led to another and I joined the
Digital Youth research group at Berkeley, which I loved being a part of. I quickly realized that I
should switch to a PhD track and find somewhere where I could keep doing the same kinds of
research. So far at Tech I've had that opportunity and I'm grateful for that.
I was attracted to Sociology in my first semester as an undergraduate. I had come in as a business
major, wanting to follow in the footsteps of my wildly successful Uncle (Norm Smallwood). I
took an introductory course in Sociology (having no idea what it was at the time) and just never
looked back. I had been involved heavily in the Punk Rock scene in Winnipeg, and then in
Alberta, and found out that Sociology addressed everything that I was aligned with - issues of
racism, sexism, homophobia, social inequality... each had their own chapter! This was something
I could do. I actually came to University after attempting a career as a musician, and failing
My substantive field in online culture came later. I took a third year course in "Sociology of
Cyberspace" - and found it completely lacking. The reading we did for that course made it pretty
clear (painfully so) that most of the sociology being done (at that time) was being written by
people who clearly "didn't get" the web. I saw an opportunity to give voice to the people whom I
felt were not being represented by the literature. Why are we still debating whether or not we can
define online communities as "real" or not? Why are we still concerned that the person you
might be talking to might not be whom they say they are? That, combined with the whole
"Stranger danger" discourse (see: "To Catch a Predator!" on NBC Dateline)... I felt that there
was an opportunity to contribute something new.
Well, my job prior to graduate school was working on a research project in UNC's School of
Information and Library Science. The name of the project is ibiblio.org - and I was originally
drawn to it due to its high-profile location in the open source world.
However, as time passed at my job, I realized that I was very interested in research. At the same
time, social network services such as Friendster really caught my attention. I saw the research
potential of these services and sort of saw the light... I had found my research area, albeit
Click here for the next thread.
Have there been any especially inspiring people who have influenced your graduate work? How
have they been influential?
My current supervisor, Art Frank.. I was in sort of a rut when I came in to do my PhD, in that I
wasn't convinced that the academic life would be for me. By chance, I took a methodology
course in Narrative Analysis, which he was teaching, and it completely opened my eyes to an
entirely new way of looking at sociology. I handed in a paper (which used pieces from my data
collection of Metafilter), and he gave me an A- on it. Of course, as an overachiever who just
won't accept anything below an A, I was devastated.
When I asked him what I did wrong, he told me that the stuff I reported, while well written,
never really left the screen... he told me that I was clearly "lost in cyberspace" - which caused me
to have one of those great epiphany moments; he was exactly right. I had been attempting to
come up with a sociology of online culture where everything stayed in the virtual realm, while
completely forgetting that these were real people living real lives.
This propelled me to change my direction entirely into the project I am assembling now - that is,
looking still at online communities, but communities centered around diseases, looking to see
how the collaboration and sharing of information and experiences plays out in patients health
work needed to manage illness, how this information collection changes the dynamics between
the doctor and patient.
Well, my advisors Gary Marchionini and Paul Jones. I've known them going on 6 years, and I've
learned a lot from them. They've been very supportive of my work. I've sort of had to chart my
own course in terms of my research areas, but they are always there to provide guidance and
unending reading lists. Gary and Paul are really just excellent people, and I'm lucky to work with
I've been lucky enough to have to two advisors who I look up to immensely! Peter Lyman at
Berkeley was a PI with the Digital Youth group. I first had him for an introductory class but
when I joined the project I had the opportunity to interact in more personal settings with him our
weekly research meetings. He is incredibly wise, introspective, and perceptive. I'd give anything
to develop the skills he has for observing people and being able to come up with all kinds of
insightful descriptions of them. He had a very hands off advising style, which I liked since I
work well independently, and he encouraged his students to explore their interests and generate
their own conclusions.
My current advisor at Georgia Tech is Amy Bruckman. She is a role model to me in more ways
than I can list. Her dissertation, MOOSE Crossing, was a pioneering project related to kids in
constructionist online learning environments. She takes on an extremely dedicated role as a
mentor to her students, as well as to the regular influx of random people who aren't her students
but are wanting to get advice from her. I'm grateful to not have a professor who is impossible to
get a hold of and who doesn't respond to emails. As I think about whether I want to head into
research or teaching, being able to observe role models like Amy and how they conduct
themselves on a daily basis is a valuable opportunity for me. There are a number of professors at
Tech that I look up to in this way.
I am in the beginning with my thesis and just starting to create my own network of people who
are interested on same things. Up to now, the supervisor of my thesis, Professor Virpi Tuunainen
in Helsinki School of Economics, has given me a lot of useful information and advice.
I can't underestimate the significance of people in the online communities where I am personally
involved. Behind the actual discussion themes, I can see there several things and phenomena,
and continuously reflect them to the literature I have so far read.
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Can you describe for us your most memorable conference experience?
I have joined only one conference, eBRC 2004 in Tampere, Finland. I was quite nervous before
my presentation - this was my first conference ever - and I was extremely concerned not to
exceed the time limits. As the result, I finished my 30 minutes presentation in 15 minutes.
Fortunately the audience had a few questions so I didn't have to be shamed about my super-fast
Well, without a doubt that's the UNC Social Software Symposium I put together in 2006.
The attendees were absolutely top-notch, the conversation was great, and everything went off
without a hitch. My advisor Gary Marchionini supported the conference, and it wouldn't have
happened without his support. I think it was a truly beneficial event for all involved, and I really
look forward to collaborating with some of the friends I met through the conference.
Hmmm. Am I allowed to pass on this? I've been to fun conferences but nothing outstanding
(yet). I generally don't like meetings, especially ones that are long and drawn out. I've earned a
reputation with my group mates both at Tech and Berkeley for holding the shortest group
This is a tough one.. Most of my experiences have been nothing but positive, with my work
being well received.
Click here for the next thread.
What have been your biggest challenges and rewards in graduate school?
My biggest challenge is coming up with a dissertation topic. I think it's because there are way too
many cool questions to ask in my field of study, sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store
when I'm trying to focus my research on a particular question. Every week I walk into Amy's
office and she asks me "What's your research question?" We call my answers the "flavor of the
week" because they change on a weekly (often daily) basis. This summer I'll be teaching an
Introduction to HCI Curriculum for Teenagers which I am really excited about -- it is a pilot
study that, if done correctly, will help lead me towards a dissertation topic.
I think the biggest challenges, for me, come in that I am finding it increasingly hard to relate to
non-academic type people. aka: real people. I think this is something that I notice, in that all I
want to do is talk about my wildly interesting research and reading and conversations I had with
so and so... but then you start to see people's eyes glaze over. Combine that with the fact that you
can never really turn off being a sociologist, so when I am with non-sociologist friends, I want to
analyze every little interaction or whatnot... and I know this annoys people to no end. That is it in
a nut shell: staying rooted in the "real world" - it becomes increasingly difficult.
The rewards of doing grad school are many - For me, even things like being given the
opportunity to teach, to be able to read and write for a living, to be able to have stimulating
intellectual conversations with highly intelligent and fascinating people. For me, being a
graduate student is a reward in and of itself. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but really, I love
it, and couldn't see myself doing anything different. I feel blessed to have such an opportunity -
to follow my passions, and I really wouldn't trade it for anything.
Though, when I am marking a thousand exams in April, please remind me I said that...
In terms of challenges, I'd say the constant challenge is self-motivation. At this level, you're not
going to succeed if you're not self-motivated. I get distracted easily.
When I write my dissertation there will be a special part where I curse out YouTube for time
lost. In terms of rewards, and I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I feel like being in school
is the reward. I'm happy that I've found something I truly enjoy, and I love being a student. The
time is flying by too fast!
The biggest challenge for me has definitely been how to combine to be a graduate student and a
mother of little children, and at the same time make some money for living, too. Currently I am
home with two daughters (5 years and 6 years), and planning to continue working with my thesis
this Spring. When the resources (time) are scarce, I have found out that I have become quite
efficient in my work. I could, however, easily use some extra hours in a day. I remember to have
studied qualitative research methods while taking care of my children in the playground.
Fortunately this was quite an exceptional occasion, the both sides suffer if they are continuously
The published papers are significant rewards in research work. It is also very rewarding to create
solutions if you have some problems in your work, observe significant findings in your research
data, for example -- it feels good to notice that you are smart and clever :) Last but not least, it
feels rewarding to receive financial awards from foundations; you will get the feeling that your
work is appreciated.
Click here for the next thread.
Do you think the Internet should be taught as a "subject" for children, ages 5 to 18, in elementary
and secondary schools? Say, in the same ways we approach teaching math, reading, history,
science, language arts, and other subjects?
Or should the Internet be embedded in the "process" of learning, rather than as a formal
It seems to me that we may be exposing children and teens to new social technologies without
really addressing the long-term effects of those technologies, either at the individual level or
Are we adequately addressing the Internet's personal and social effects for children and
This question immediately brings to mind the "To Catch a Predator" series (and now the
companion book - "Enemies in Your Home" or whatever it is called...), which is maintaining the
mythology of the Internet as being "dangerous," with "predators" lurking, pornography
everywhere... on and on like this.
It isn't anything new.
I did a lecture recently where I presented research tracing the "moral panic" of new technologies
all the way back to the telegraph (the fear being that women might succumb to the seduction of
non-face to face communication, which seems mind boggling to us). This is not to deny that
"bad" things have come out of being online; I just find it troubling that the Internet's promise as
an educational tool is being reigned in for some misguided attempts to "save our children."
To answer the question directly; we have to consider both options -- both in terms of using ICT
as a tool, but also as a substantive subject.
That is to say that as a tool for learning, ICT is unparalleled. I have often remarked how
dramatically my University experience changed once research articles and books started showing
up online. I can't even remember the last time I stepped inside the campus library -- I just haven't
needed to for the work I have been doing.
The other half of the equation is all the new social formations and conversations that are
happening in blogs, online communities, chat rooms etc. etc. etc. I can't imagine why, as a field,
Sociology has been so slow at jumping at the ICT bandwagon -- there are just so many socially
interesting things happening at such a rapid pace.
How this is shaping lives needs to be addressed, absolutely. I just think it needs to happen in a
more even handed way. I contend that Folksonomies like Wikipedia are having a more direct
impact than sexual predators and online red light districts.
The school system here in Finalnd is a bit different. The children start their school at the age of
seven. Before it, they have a pre-school for 1 year, and naturally before it they learn things at the
daycare. I have two children (6 years and 5 years), and the older one uses the Internet almost
daily for games and communicating with friends and relatives. The smaller one is satisfied when
she sees nice pictures on the Internet, the animal parade of Teletubbies is number one at the
I think that children today are so used to the Internet that they don't think it as any separate issue.
In my opinion, the Internet should rather be embedded in learning rather than handled as a
formal content area. It would be good if Internet is discussed in many subjects. When studying
history you could look also the history of the communication, history of information highway.
And when studying your environment, you could for example discuss also the e-environment. As
a mother of two little daughters I am naturally worried about all the dangers my children are
opposed on the Internet when they get older. What if they get into troubles when communicating
with strangers on the Internet? What if they tell too much about themselves on the Internet and
get themselves in a danger? Beside the school, also the parents have responsibilities in this thing.
I entirely agree with Paul's claim that Wikipedia and similar online environments are are more
likely to influencing kids in profound ways, both in school and out of school! I also enjoyed
reading Miia's response, although I generally disagree that the Internet should only be embedded
learning but not added as a formal content area...
I think the future of a core K-12 agenda should be in equipping kids with skills in "reading,
writing, and computing" where computing involves a wide array of skills in both online as well
as desktop application-oriented computing environments. I definitely agree that using the
Internet as an embedded tool for learning is a fundamental part of this curriculum, especially
given that students are all doing that anyway (eg searching Google when writing a research
paper), but I think there are whole host of topics that students can start learning at an early age:
search, information retrieval, how to assess authority, privacy, setting preferences, selecting the
right tool for the right uses, cheating versus collaboration issues, in addition to basic skills like
typing, creating effective PowerPoint presentations, or writing a research paper.
Of course, this opinion reflects my own research bias... I am teaching an Introduction to HCI
course to teenagers this summer with two goals in particular: first, to teach them core design,
user interface, and user studies principles, scaled to an appropriate difficulty level for teenagers;
and second, to hook them into computing as an interesting and exciting field such that they might
want to study it in college or be excited to go land the next job at Google.
Of course, I am using the word computing here rather than Internet, which leads to a different
discussion that is actively being debated among Computer Science Education researchers. What
is the difference between Computing, the Internet, Computer Science, Information Literacy, etc
and which are important for kids to know about? I'm not sure I can answer that question!
First, a few things.
This is a very broad question. The age group 5-18 (primary and secondary school) is
tremendously vast. Further, the maturity intervals are so small at that age range, it is very hard to
compare a 7 year old to a 9 year old.
Second, I don't think we can dichotomize an approach to something as vast as the internet. The
internet is going to be embedded in the future of learning, and there will be highly contextual
shifts between demographics in terms of learning engagement. For example, rural students may
be more likely to take an AP Latin course over the internet than urban students.
Essentially, there are a number of pivot points where learning needs will require us to learn
technological skills, and vice versa.
Of course, the internet is a vessel. It enables us to do many things. When we learn a
programming language to design a website, those skills are not inherently internet skills. The
same is true when a video production is uploaded. These creations are contextualized within the
medium, but they are not inherent of the medium.
So this brings us to an interesting question. Do you teach children first to become good, critical
learners, and hope that these skills will transfer to the internet? If you teach a child to be a great
photographer, will it look as good on the internet as in print or a gallery? Fundamentally, the
medium requires us to re-evaluate the techniques of learning and production and requires us to
apply them in context.
So perhaps it is the skills required for this recontextualization that are most valuable. Certainly
there are technical and non-technical aspects of this skillset, but we can certainly be taught best-
practices for communicating within a medium.
At some level, I believe that cultural and social norms will lead young people to these skills.
Social networking sites provide interesting places for study - why is it that a significant portion
of young people can update a myspace layout, maintain a profile, etc? They do so by watching
their peers and appropriating their behavior. Of course, relying on society to "work out" the skills
of young people will lead to systematic failures, especially in the context of learning. It is one
thing to expect young people to care about their Myspace pages, and another thing to imagine
them collaboratively managing a wiki or something like that.
To prevent these systematic failures, we must embed the core skills that are transferable into
curricula. Basic technology skills, critical thinking, etc- of these things get us up to speed to
participate in the discussion, but they will only take us so far. Social learning processes will take
us in some directions, drilling and required study (such as in my statistics classes, which prove
that non-technical people can learn a command line interface) can accomplish other things.
Ultimately, we have to make our mind up on what are the best ways to allot time to this "above
and beyond" learning.
And the way to do that is by having a good grasp on what is successful for students. If a
Myspace-type environment provides a good learning experience, then perhaps it is useful to
explore this. We mustn't let our entrenched ideas about what is right and wrong dictate our
approaches going forward.
[later, in a follow-up...]
One time I was giving a talk and I indirectly referred to the fact that most instructors are not
keeping pace with the digital learners they are teaching. The crowd hissed at me - there is mass
This weekend I actually attended a very interesting conference (HASTAC) where folks from
many of the major grant making institutions were talking about the future of digital learning
(Connie Yowell from MacArthur, for example).
These funders get it, and I found that very inspiring. Perhaps if we "follow the money" we'll get
Thanks.. Very insightful points by all of you.
Click here for the next thread.
We're going to move onto the intersection of politics and public policy with the Web...
What politician, or political organization, has impressed you the most with his or her "web
campaigning"? Why? Feel free to suggest more than one if you like..
Can I say no one?
And I say that as nicely as possibly, because there's no doubt that candidates have done great
things with the web.
Ultimately, though, what is the character of the relationship between politicians and the web?
For most of them, the web is just a more-efficient fundraising vehicle. This is evidenced in the
fact that mailing lists are still the preferred norm for raising funds - candidates are simply using
their web properties to funnel supporters into their fundraising systems.
All of the lip service that gets paid to social media and social networks? In the end, people really
aren't going to spend much time "hanging out" with candidates online. However, if the
candidates can find a way to get people's email addresses from their Facebook profiles, well,
social networks will be a huge success.
I think the problem here is that social systems operate best in an organic, bottom-up fashion. All
of the incidences of activism on social media sites have been bottom-up. And unfortunately,
political candidates really don't lean toward the bottom-up mentality. To that extent, I believe
theres a tremendous opportunity for peer-to-peer mobilization, but when the mobilizing actor is a
single, central feature in the network, I think there's significantly less viability there.
Finland's prime minister Mr. Matti Vanhanen, who has been dating on the Internet. Any publicity
is better than no publicity, or how do you say it in English...
From a recent article in the Inquirer:
"The tabloids of Helsinki are all a flutter over the Finnish Prime Minister's high tech relationship
which started and ended using technology. According to Reuters, Matti Vanhanen met Susan
Kuronen on the Internet and recently dumped her in an SMS message. Now Kuronen has rushed
to the tabloids and gossip magazines in a technology kiss and tell. She told Me Naiset (Us
Women) that 'Matti' dumped her in an SMS message where he just said, 'that's it'. We assume he
was using a Nokia. Until it ended, the romance fuelled much tabloid excitement earlier this year
and prompted French President Jacques Chirac to declare that Vanhanen was Finland's sexiest
I think that, with the potential that the web has for politics, it is still being held at arms length by
the big politicians. I think this is a mistake. There are really no politicians (save for Howard
Dean) that I can think of off the top of my head that have effectively leveraged online
Sure, many candidates have "blogs" - but many miss the point of blogging all together - with
infrequent, impersonal posts that are little more than "copy/paste" from their campaign materials.
Why aren't they on Facebook? Where is the Myspace pages? Where is the open commenting?
When I think about this, It makes me shake my head a little.
I haven't been impressed by any political campaigns. Politicians have created a web presence
wherever people are at the time, but I haven't seen them do it any innovative way that
distinguishes them from the way that marketers and advertisers also leverage the easy access to a
critical mass of people. Not that both groups don't do that well, and effectively, but I'm still
waiting for the merging of an innovative use of the Internet with a particular political message. I
think it will happen sooner or later!
By the way, Paul, the politicians and political campaigns are on MySpace and Facebook. As of
April, Barack Obama has over 65,000 supports on Facebook. But, if your point was that they are
not doing anything particularly exciting to leverage those 65,000 supporters, then yes, I would
Just thought I would throw this out, as the Obama thing was something I possibly should have
looked into before making the claim that no politicians are doing social networking.
Then I read this today on Slashdot:
"TechPresident, which is covering the use of technology by Presidential Campaigns for 2008,
has a very interesting article on how Obama's MySpace page is currently the subject of an
underground battle for control by the campaign itself and the volunteer who created it in 2004.
Joseph Anthony worked with the campaign initially and grew the site to include over 160,000
unsolicited friends that the campaign could use to reach out to. It currently is the main Obama
page in the Impact Channel on MySpace. However, as Obama's campaign became more
centralized and formal, the decision was made to attempt to acquire control of the site from
Anthony. They asked him for a price, which he offered up as $49,000 plus part of the $10,000
fee paid to MySpace for the Impact Channel. Obama balked at the price, and decided to start
afresh rather than pay the money. The fight broke out into the open when Anthony posted a
response on his blog to rumors that the campaign was spreading regarding him wanting to cash
out. MyDD has more."
Read more of this story on Slashdot.
I wonder what other campaigns are going to learn from this "mistake."
This has been a pretty fascinating development. In a follow-up to his original post, Micah Sifry
offered a nice recap and analysis on TechPresident, and I agree with his assessment.
Barack Obama's internet team botched this situation...
To put this in an offline perspective -- I can't imagine a presidential campaign organization
taking over a closely aligned volunteer organization's physical space and equipment in this
manner.. say, at the state level... and not offering any kind of compensation. Somewhat different
because we're talking the web, but the inherent value should be comparable. Is there a legal
infraction by Obama? Probably not. Should there be a responsibility of goodwill towards a
volunteer leader and innovator? I think so. I'm thinking about this like a matter of "property
rights", but in the fuzzy cyberpsace context it's hard to say how this should have been resolved.
To me, it just hits that yuck threshold..
Like others have said in blogs, probably anyone with future big time political aspirations are now
making sure they have registered profiles on the major social networks sites (and domain
registries), if only to avoid this kind of public conflict.
Another reference (just posted to the AoIR list) which looks to be a pretty expert panel for this
The book looks like an interesting read!
Internet and National Elections: A Comparative Study of Web Campaigning
Quote: "Drawing upon a common conceptual framework, the book examines how the Internet is
employed by a variety of political actors. At the conclusion of the discussion a reception will be
held celebrating publication of The Internet and National Elections."
Thanks for sharing Sarita, this looks interesting.
Also potentially of note is a study I recently came across, examining the effects of various
technologies on political participation.
I think the factor analysis is interesting.... to see significant effects for active participation via
social networking is a little bit of knowledge to store in the back pocket.
Do you think, along the lines of the excerpt I pasted below, that youth political activism on the
web (and the inevitable producer/consumer discussion that comes with it) can be paralleled to the
more general active/passive discussion that has been in popular press recently? It essentially used
bunk (in my opinion) arguments to suggest that most people on Wikipedia and other major sites
are just consuming and not actually participating. I think their methods were flawed and
especially the way they presented the numbers to make this claim, but maybe I am biased
towards the argument I want to believe. :)
[Some relevant online sources about this...]
"Who's Really Participating in Web 2.0" by Bill Tancer, TIME
"Participation on Web 2.0 sites remains weak" by Eric Auchard, Reuters
"Digital Renaissance: Young Consumer and Citizen?" (pdf) by Claes H. de Vreese, AAPSS, 611,
Quote from de Vreese 2007: "In essence, it suggests that among young people, communicating
online and making use of online services correlate strongly, significantly, and robustly with
online political participation (such as, for example, taking part in online polls, online petitions, e-
mail letters to the editor, etc). This suggests that a specific kind of "digital citizenship" is
observable. These findings run somewhat counter to the typology suggested by Livingstone,
Bober, and Helsper (2005), who found that civic-minded young persons was a distinct category,
while our findings show that civic-mindedness, digital political participation, consumption, and
online social networking can go hand in hand."
I'm not sure what you are describing as bunk - if you're describing TIME's numbers, I agree.
Those are completely, utterly bunk. Seeing that piece in Time really lowered my opinion of that
magazine (if that is possible).
[see Fred's post about this on his blog]
Sorry, yes, TIME's article and the people who were responsible for it was what I was referring to
as seeming utterly invalid!
Click here for the next thread.
Let's pretend we are going to hold a 90 minute workshop for freshmen/first-year legislators
entering U.S. Congress or other another country's Parliament... Within the scope of the Internet
(particularly Web 2.0), what topics would be your priority to teach them, and why?
Hot media vs. Cold media.
I've seen a number of postmodernist critiques of web 2.0 (Trebor Scholz wrote a good one) but I
haven't really seen anyone explore the hot/cold dichotomy that exists in web 2.0. For a political
candidate, the power of a youtube video is absolutely astounding.
Sure, a blog post will get people fired up and maybe some columnist will run with it, but you
need to be connected to be filtered up the chain. But you can be Jane or Joe Anyone with a
camera and catch a politician doing or saying something...the power is incredible.
But maybe that's not that interesting. Or maybe I'm jaded. The topologies of networks that
emerge in social media lend themselves to the appearance of democracy, but as we all know the
blogosphere is not truly democratic. I think the tools that best cut across the hierarchies of
networks are the most exciting.
I would perhaps warn them about the Internet publicity. We had recently parliament election
here in Finland and one of the candidates was filmed in a candid camera. He thought he was
discussing privately with a voter, and very openly told rasistic opinions about some immigrants
in Finland. The voter was a reporter, and the video of this situation ended up in YouTube. This
may be common in United States, but in Finland this is a new phenomenom and attracted a lot of
If companies are investing huge sums of money in researching consumer behaviour, the
politicians should also know how their potential voters think. Thus they have to be made aware
of the ways people, especially young people, are communicating on the Internet today.
I would teach them about social networking. I think that, as my generation (and younger) starts
moving into politics, this will be a no-brainer, but for the current crop of legislators going in
(mid 40's at the young end?), there would be a lesson on the sheer potential that something as
inane as "Friending" someone would have as far as opening up direct lines of communication
with the unwashed masses.
I think the other one would be on establishing an online identity. So often (as I noted in the first
question) I see politician blogs and you can tell, somehow, that they aren't writing it, or are
importing material that might work in other media (but doesn't "play" online in the same way); a
lesson in establishing an online identity - the style of writing that works best (etc) would be huge
for a new politician.
My advisor jokes that in 20 years no one will be eligible to be president. Everybody will have
some digital trail that follows them wherever they go. It seems not only pointless, but also futile,
to try to avoid this. I think they should take a course on the art of self-presentation online. In the
same way that they are taught public speaking skills, they could be taught public online
"speaking" skills. There would be basic skills, like having a web presence through a website, and
offering user engagement and feedback through chats and discussions and such.
There are lot more subtle and challenging skills though, like how to convey a unique personality,
or how to customize identity based on who is viewing the campaign. Viewers in rural Kansas
might be exposed to a very different campaign image than viewers in Berkeley. Of course, this is
a technical challenge as much as it is a skill in perception management. Wired recently had an
article about the "See-Through CEO" who blogged personal challenges and ups and downs
instead of just a polished front. I'm curious how the same approach in the political world would
Ok, thanks for all of your comments on this last question thread...
I think we see that (1) politicians in general are still not utilizing the interactive and community-
building power of the web; and (2) the popular media may need to do a better job of research
before reporting, as well as asking better questions, about what is /is not a particular form of
Click here for the next thread.
The fields of Web Science, e-science, Social Informatics, Information Science, and closely
related fields of other names, are in their infancy right now.. Like so many other academic
disciplines at such a young age, there are some growing pains in terms of definitions and
Some say there is so much overlap across these research fields, that there must eventually be a
recognized "universal field" and name to describe studying the social dynamics of technology..
Do you agree? Why, or why not?
If you were given the chance to lead the development of your research field...
What name would you give your field?
How broad would be its scope in terms of technology observed? (e.g. the Web, Internet, ICTs,
How would you organize the field?
Wow, this is a tough question. The deeper I go into academia, the more I realize just how
difficult of a question it is. If you asked me a year or two ago if we should create a
trasndiciplinary field of information dynamics, I'd probably agree. However, as my
understanding of theoretical foundations increases, and the closer I get to a dissertation topic, the
more difficult I realize this is.
I guess the question is - do we create a new science, or a hybrid science?
For example, think of bioinformatics. I would classify bioinformatics as a hybrid science -
biology and informatics. Therefore, the literature in the field has two main theoretical
foundations - certainly they are not inventing a new biology.
However, the social technologies we study are both new and not so easily classified as
bioinformatics. There are sociological components, information science components, but there
are also new aspects. Whereas a hybrid science combines two disciplines, I'd classify social
technology as something different from a hybrid as it creates new research questions. That is, it
is an affective science.
Unfortunately, the more I talk to academics (though, not the academics at my institution, to their
credit), the more I hear how being multi-disciplinary is bad. Which is tough because I can't seem
to imagine myself in a silo. I don't think I'd be happy, and I don't think that most people in our
field would be happy in that setup. But does that mean that we won't get jobs, etc?
Also, what will the graduates of our programs do? A computer science or bioinformatics
graduate has many discrete career paths. What career paths (realistically) do social technologists
have? There are only so many jobs at Yahoo research. Of course, this is problem with many
disciplines... perhaps it is our mission to teach critical aspects to social technology. You just
don't see that being taught in most mainline programs right now.
I'm really impressed with Michigan establishing a program in social computing. I think that's a
critical vote of confidence for the field.
At the same time, it is important that we remember we are studying the effects, not the artifact.
When the telephone was invented, it changed society dramatically. And you wouldnt have
known that if you just studied the artifact. Social technology is causing change, it is having
strong reverberations... it is up to us to uncover them.
I think there should be a specific discipline that looks to describe the nature of what happens on
the Internet. It would be along the lines of a "study of the Internet". I am not sure what it should
be called, although that is maybe a less important question as it is primarily one of semantics
(although everyone of course will argue over whatever term is actually chosen). My thoughts on
what would take place in this "Web Science" are somewhat biased - well, entirely biased - since
my advisor is working on a new initiative at Georgia Tech that will be called Web Science which
will be addressing these topics. My Human-Centered Computing PhD program also just started a
new specializiation called Social Computing (just in time for me to take my quals in it this
coming year) and I think this field could be a core subset of Web Science, although it would be
far from a comprehensive coverage of the entire field.
It's important to define the differences between types of disciplinarity - multi, trans, and inter. To
the best of my understanding, multidisciplinarity cuts across multiple disciplines that are used in
parallel, transdisciplinarity focuses on topics that don't fit into a specific discipline, and
interdisciplinarity incorporates pieces from multiple disciplines into a particular study.
Transdisciplinarity, in my opinion, is the best characterization of what a new Web Science would
involve, primarily because existing methods in other disciplines seem to fall short in helping us
to analyze much of what takes place online. For example, in looking to analyze teens'
interactions on MySpace, we can interview teens all over the country, or we can get the log files
from Tom and derive some quantiative trends in use, but it is a difficult and cost ineffective
process to attempt to link the two together and paint a comprehensive portrait of the social
dynamics on MySpace. I'd guess that PEW does the best job at this, but they have a lot of
resources and highly skilled experts to work with.
Any new methods in a Web Science discipline would inevitably draw from what we already
know works and doesn't work in other disciplines, but I'd like to think there is space in this field
for new methods to emerge from these existing practices. Similarly, complex emerging topics
like IRB on the Internet, research ethics, offline and online comparison studies, or Internet
policies (such as the use of the Internet in schools) present challenges to researchers who are
trying to understand and analyze what takes place in these spaces. There are a number of
deficiences in the practices and tools that are at our disposal right now as researchers. It is
possible that these deficiencies could be better legitimized and addressed if there were a specific
discipline that was dedicated to this field of study.
This is a tough question. We previously discussed about the children, school and Internet, and
then I wrote that the Internet should rather be embedded in learning rather than handled as a
formal content area but it would be good if Internet is discussed in many subjects. In a more
advanced level at universities I can't see any reason why Web science, etc. couldn't be a separate
The social computing in Michigan is a great start indeed, and I am looking forward to seeing
other implementations, too. I like the name "social computing" and I would like the see the word
"social" in the name of these new disciplines. In Information Systems Science the people are an
essential part of information systems, and this could be more emphasized in these social
I have been thinking about this, coming from Sociology, where I often have to justify my
research in terms of a "the sociology of ________." (in this case, the unfortunate sticking name
for many seems to be "The Sociology of Cyberspace," which I may have already complained
I think it is inevitable that there will be a separate "Information and Communications
Technologies" subfield, which absolutely makes sense on many practical levels (funding being
the key one). When this does happen, I think it has no choice but to remain as broad as possible,
especially a field that (so far) has to keep pace with the speed in which new forms emerge.
I have also, like Fred, been warned in the past about staying true to my field and not becoming
too multidisciplinary, as it is apparently harder to find a job after I am done with my PhD (I was
actually ready to apply to communications programs, which I decided in the end would be too
risky if these warnings turned out to be true - it is hard enough finding an academic job).
The other side of this is that these artificial boundaries we live in - like Fred, I can't imagine
myself working in a silo either - are exactly that - artificial. If you look at any reference list from
publications in this area, they come from all across the disciplines, rightly so. So I fear grouping
all the "Information and Communications Technologies" would be a bad move, in that you
would miss the vitality of having all of these varying disciplines informing research. I think
specific disciplinary journals, conferences etc. do the job nicely without having to lump everyone
into one department.
Sarita was talking about the "deficiences in the practices and tools that are at our disposal right
now as researchers," I think this is exactly true, in that when I went up for ethics review for my
Metafilter study, the ethic board had no problems with it at all, and that they explained that it is
like watching the audience at an ice-hockey game because participants in an online community
"know they are in public." This was surprising to me, because some of the Metafilter users were
very upset that I would be "invading their privacy." At that time there were over twenty thousand
registered users, so how could this be? Clearly, there were issues that the traditional disciplines
were unable to deal with here.
So, in the end, I am on the fence; I can see both sides, and I actively dislike the boundary
maintenance that happens in academia, but I also see the need for a separate sub-discipline to
tackle the issues Sarita raised. I just worry what happens whenever we put up walls of any kind,
in that I fear what we might be missing out on.
Right now, I work as a sociologist, but I definitely refuse to limit myself to sociology, and this
works for me.
This roundtable exercise has been a treat for me. I greatly appreciate all of your comments and
ideas on the various request/question threads. All four of you have provided rich discussion on
some interesting issues.
May 18, 2007