Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net
Publication Year: 1999
The Internet is a medium with great consequences for social and economic life. This book is written to help people discern in what ways it has commanded the public imagination, and the methodological issues that arise when one tries to study and understand the social processes occurring within it. The contributors offer original responses in the search for, and critique of, methods with which to study the Internet and the social, political, economic, artistic, and communicative phenomena occurring within and around it.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Studying the Net: Intricacies and Issues
- Chapter 2: Complementary Explorative Data Analysis: The Reconciliation of Quantitative and Qualitative Principles
- Chapter 3: Recontextualizing “Cyberspace”: Methodological Considerations for on-Line Research
- Chapter 4: Studying On-Line Social Networks
- Chapter 5: Cybertalk and the Method of Instances
- Chapter 6: Configuring as a Mode of Rhetorical Analysis
- Chapter 7: From Paper-and-Pencil to Screen-and-Keyboard: Toward a Methodology for Survey Research on the Internet
- Chapter 8: Measuring Internet Audiences: Patrons of an on-Line Art Museum
- Chapter 9: Analyzing the Web: Directions and Challenges
- Chapter 10: There is a there there: Notes Toward a Definition of Cybercommunity
- Chapter 11: Researching and Creating Community Networks
- Chapter 12: Beyond Netiquette: The Ethics of Doing Naturalistic Discourse Research on the Internet
- Chapter 13: Thinking the Internet: Cultural Studies Versus the Millennium
Other books authored or edited by Steve Jones:[Page ii]
- CyberSociety 2.0: Revisiting CMC and Community
- Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety
- CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community
- Rock Formation: Popular Music, Technology and Mass Communication
Copyright © 1999 by Sage Publications, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Main entry under title:
Doing Internet research: Critical issues and methods for examining the Net/edited by Steven G. Jones.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7619-1594-X (cloth: acid-free paper)
ISBN 0-7619-1595-8 (pbk.: acid-free paper)
1. Internet (Computer network)—Social aspects—Research—Methodology. 2. Internet (Computer network)—Social aspects—United States—Research—Methodology. 3. Telematics—Social aspects—Research—Methodology. 4. Telematics—Social aspects—United States—Research—Methodology. 5. Cyberspace—Social aspects—Research—Methodology. 6. Cyberspace—Social aspects—United States—Research—Methodology.
I. Jones, Steve, 1961–
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
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For Ted, Don, Linda, and Beth
Someone's always missing From the picture Of the perfect scene we're all headed for Someday
—Lynn Canfield/Area, “Puzzle Boy,” 1990[Page vi]
No one ever said that change Had to make the kind of sense we swear Is only right—Lynn Canfield/Area. “Larger Than Life,” 1990
Don MacDonald and John Pauly, professors of communication at the University of Tulsa, developed and regularly taught a course titled “Inquiry in Communication” offered in that department. At the very start of the term, they challenged undergraduates to unfailingly ask So what? and Who cares? questions when the students read research or began to plan research projects of their own. Those questions are critically important to research, not merely because they should drive scholars to justify their work or simply because they may give us insight into the motivation(s) of scholarship, but rather, they engage scholar and reader in a conversation about values.
But such questions continue to be easily dismissed when it comes to Internet research: The Internet's very ubiquitousness (if due only to its coverage in the media) has ingrained in us its importance. Of course, many [Page x]people do care about the Internet and what goes on within and through it, and as well we should care. As a medium of communication new to us (newer than television, the former undisputed champion of research of assumed importance), a medium that intersects with everyday life in ways both strange and omnipresent, popular interest in the Internet is enormous—not just in industrial countries, but worldwide.
We are still coming to grips with the changes that we feel are brought about by networked communication of the type so prominently made visible by the Internet. In some cases, it is even possible that we feel change where there is not any, from anticipation bred by being accustomed as we are to its occurrence. Change is what motivated this book's creation, as did the frequency with which I find myself wondering if change makes sense in regard to the methods we have been using to study the Internet's convergence with modern life. It is the result of discussions with many scholars from a wide variety of disciplines who believe, as do I, that simply applying existing theories and methods to the study of Internet-related phenomena is not a satisfactory way to build our knowledge of the Internet as a social medium. Consequently, this is not a book that will (at least in any direct way) help people to use the Internet as a research tool. Rather, its goal is to assist in the search for, and critique of, methods with which we can study the Internet and the social, political, economic, artistic, and communicative phenomena occurring within, through, and in some cases, apart from but nevertheless related to, the Internet. As Rice and Williams (1984) caution,
We need not jettison useful communication theories when we wish to understand the new media … we should take advantage … of the new media to further specify and modify those theories…. The new media need to be included in traditional communication research, but we need to look at those traditional theories untraditionally. (pp. 55, 80)
Rice and Williams's call for interdisciplinarity in new media research is one heeded by contributors to this volume and one that I hope will continue to suffuse Internet research.
Disciplinarity is useful for a variety of reasons, however, including that it provides a starting point and structure for systematic scholarship. Because another goal of the book is to help people get started … well, doing Internet research … structure and disciplinarity will be evident. Yet disciplinarity should never lead us to abandon inquiry. The instant it structures to the extent that it disengages curiosity, disciplinarity will ruin scholarship. We must [Page xi]keep asking, What are the methods that scholars are already using to study the Internet? What are ones that we could use but have not yet? What are the advantages and disadvantages to these methods and others? There is not yet a field known as “Internet studies,” although there may well be one before long. Although it is not a goal of this volume to create such a field, it has as one of its goals to get us to begin thinking about how we might go about systematically studying this medium. On the other hand, the last thing I would like to have happen is for the study of the Internet and related social phenomena to get systematized to the point of bureaucratic rigidity. There are no “traditional” methods for studying the World Wide Web or e-mail or Usenet or, for that matter, anything Internet related.
As I have examined my own feelings during the making of this book, I have found myself less in favor of the formation of a field of study, in large part because we would do well to avoid what Stephen Jay Gould (1993) succinctly pointed out in an essay on field research:
All field naturalists know and respect the phenomenon of “search image”—the best proof that observation is an interaction of mind and nature, not a fully objective and reproducible mapping of outside upon inside, done in the same way by all careful and competent people. In short, you see what you are trained to view—and observation of different sorts of objects often requires a conscious shift of focus, not a total and indiscriminate expansion in the hopes of seeing everything. The world is too crowded with wonders for simultaneous perception of all; we learn our fruitful selectivities. (p. 213)
The Internet is a “different sort of object” (if it is, indeed, an object at all), and studying it does require a “conscious shift of focus.” However, I will hope that we can continuously shift both focus and method in the pursuit of understanding and hope that we do not fix our gaze one way or another, lest we fail to grasp the Internet's essential changeability.
There are, of course, methods that have been traditionally, and successfully, used to study other media that are now being used to study the Internet, also with success. Ron Rice (1989) writes that “research on the uses and implications of CMCS (Computer-Mediated Communication Systems) reflects a variety of disciplinary paradigms, technological distinctions, and evaluation approaches” (p. 469). When it comes to Internet research, most of these are drawn from communication research, media studies, anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, cultural studies, psychology, and political economy. Some are quantitative, some qualitative. Some are rooted in the [Page xii]social sciences, others in the humanities, and others still cross over such boundaries. Which are useful? Which are not? Which do we believe will contribute most to our knowledge of the Internet? Those are the kinds of questions with which contributors to this volume have grappled. I must say that I hope these questions have been engaged but not quite answered, for if answers are that readily at hand, I may have been fooling myself that the study of the Internet is exciting and intriguing.
One might ask a priori, Why should we do Internet research? That question suffuses the work of contributors to this volume. Suffice to say for now that, whether or not one believes the hyperbolic claims about the Internet being the biggest thing since the invention of the wheel, the Internet is a medium with great consequences for social and economic life. To some extent, it simply does not matter whether one is on-line or not—one's life will be, in some way, for better or worse, touched by the Internet. As Rice (1989) notes, “Providing instruction, the delivery of health services, the retrieval of database information … the computerization of political campaigns” are among the activities “experiencing … convergence” with computer technology (p. 469), a convergence accelerated by the Internet. In a few years in the early 1990s, with a certain rapidity and inexorability, the Internet became a medium as widespread in the public mind, if not the physical world, as television and radio before it. Like technologies preceding it, the Internet has commanded the public imagination. What that says about us is even more important than what it says about the Internet. And what command it has: It is not often that a technology can so engage diverse interests in the public sphere. Consequently, the Internet matters—although precisely in what ways it is difficult to discern. It is my hope that you will find this book useful as a guide to the means by which we can better that discernment.
I hope, too, that as we find out more about what the Internet means to us, we will also find out what social life means to us. The Internet does not exist in isolation. To study it as if it was somehow apart from the “off-line” world that brought it into being would be a gross mistake. Internet users are as much a part of physical space as they are of cyberspace (more so, really, insofar as users' choices regarding place, identity, etc. are far more limited in physical space). As a result the notion that our research should be “grounded” takes on even greater significance when it comes to Internet research. That makes Internet research particularly interesting—and demanding. Not only is it important to be aware of and attuned to the diversity of on-line experience, it is important to recognize that on-line experience is at all times tethered in some fashion to off-line experience.[Page xiii]
The bulk of research into the Internet has been essentially administrative, driven largely by the concerns of commercial interests seeking to get a grip on the demographics of on-line audiences in much the same way as that research is done on other media. Measures of web page “hits,” domain name growth, and so on give us in broad strokes some sense of the Internet's shape. But I am not convinced such measures tell us much about Internet use. For example, measuring the number of domain names registered tells us nothing about the uses to which those domain names are put. Commercial Internet users hoard domain names and often do not use them. It is a form of trademarking—McDonald's not only reserves http://mcdonalds.com, but also http://hamburger.com, http://ronald.com, and so on. And often, if they do use all of these names, they all lead to the same web page. Educational domains are probably responsible for more web content than commercial ones: At my university, for instance, the top-level domain http://uic.edu contains tens of thousands of pages strewn across hundreds of servers (http://*.uic.edu). And each student, each staff and faculty member can, if he or she wishes, have web pages on http://uic.edu, denoted by syntax such as http://uic.edu/username. That may, however, not tell us about measures of Internet traffic either. But can we now even achieve a reliable measurement of Internet traffic, given the proliferation of agens and bots, software-based browsing mechanisms like the ones used by AltaVista, for instance, to search and catalog web sites? Those generate untold traffic—not human traffic, however. How shall we account for it and not simply measure it?
The point I wish to make is not that Internet research is difficult. That is obvious. Internet research, as I will discuss later in this book, must avoid being prescriptive. But it is extremely difficult for it even to be descriptive, given the ever-changing networks involved, the mutating software and hardware, and the elastic definitions. Writing in 1988, Williams, Rice, and Rogers stated, “Although we consider possible research methods for new media as mainly extensions of existing methods, we propose that the new media researcher should consider alternative methods, or even multiple methods, and to attempt a triangulation of methods” (p. 15). One hope that we should have is that the Internet itself can serve as a medium of communication of the research we conduct, that the triangulation Williams et al. seek can occur, at least in some small part, by the publication, hyperlinking, and communication of research findings on-line.
This collection may itself require some hyperlinking of a sort: It is far from exhaustive; it is not even complete. Many disciplines are not considered in these pages; many methods are overlooked, and in some cases, even the term [Page xiv]method might be inappropriate. The goal of editing this volume never was to make it a complete one. In fact, I scarcely believe such completeness to be possible, just as I believe method itself should not solely drive inquiry. There is no one way, or even a set of ways, to go about studying the Internet, just as there is no one way or set of ways to study social relations and processes. Another goal of this volume is to consider methodological issues that arise when one tries to study and understand the social processes occurring within the Internet and, in a sense, apart from it, insofar as the Internet penetrates social life beyond its networks. The contributors to this volume do consider a broad range of methods and have their intellectual roots in various disciplines.
They have, in fact, done such a good job I scarcely know what to add. The contributors were asked, in essence, What can a particular method, area of interest, mode of inquiry, or way of asking questions contribute to Internet research? Their responses move us several steps along toward discovering ways with which to engage this emergent social word. Their responses also raise additional questions and bring to light further issues, in some ways moving us several steps to one side or the other (and appropriately, in some cases, back a step or two). As Ringer (1997) notes,
The “intellectual field” [is] a constellation of positions that are meaningful only in relation to one another, a constellation further characterized by differences of power and authority, by the opposition between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and by the role of the cultural preconscious, of tacit “doxa” that are transmitted by inherited practices, institutions, and social relations. (p. 5)
If this book manages to express some of those positions, then I believe it successful. It is my hope that this book will be but a beginning, that the steps we take here are part of a long walk that we are taking, talking all the while about cyberspace—and life, generally.References1993). Eight little piggies. London: Jonathon Cape.(1989). Issues and concepts in research on computer-mediated communication systems. Communication Yearbook, 12, 436–476.(1984). Theories old and new: The study of new media. In R. E.Rice (Ed.), The new media (pp. 55–80). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage., & (1997). Max Weber's methodology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.(1988). Research methods and the new media. New York: Free Press., , & (
The well-known maxim goes, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” and yet I have found it quite necessary to be indebted to the contributors to this volume, who gave of themselves so fully. I have learned much from their work, and it has given me great pleasure to work with them. I am privileged to be able to call them colleagues and friends.
I have, in fact, debts too numerous to list, much less discharge, that have accumulated during the making of this book. Among them are ones owed my editor at Sage, Margaret Seawell; Frank Christel, general manager of KWGS-FM at the University of Tulsa; the ADN/Academic Computer Center staff at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Jim Danowski and Emily Walker, colleagues in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Eric Gislason, Sidney B. Simpson, Jr., Larry Poston, and Steve Weaver in UIC's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Gary Szabo, Director of Information Systems, University of Washington—Bothell; and the Malnati family. Interest accrues on debts to my colleague in the Faculty of Communication at the University of Tulsa, Joli Jensen, and yet I am allowed to draw on her never-ending wisdom and inspiration. My mother and father are wonderfully supportive and encouraging.
Last, and most, thanks to Jodi White: Now that the book's done, I get the remote back.[Page xvi]
Introduction: Forests, Trees, and Internet Research[Page xvii]
I am not sure that I know what the Internet is; I am not sure that anyone does. The popular embrace of the concept of the Internet, and the market's enthusiasm to be a part of it, has certainly muddied the waters. I understand the Internet from its physical properties, and I know a little about computers and switches. I know about the Internet from the application point of view, why it was designed. I also know about use, how it is used and how I use it. I know about it from the market and social perspectives—the next “cool” thing. None of those perspectives seems to suffice in grasping the Internet.
The use of the Internet does not always adhere to its applications or its physical properties. I can think about the Internet using any two of the above concepts: technology, application, and/or use, but I have trouble using more. Trying to hold all of these constructs together creates the need to constantly modify the understanding or explanation of one of them, often resulting in [Page xviii]incorrect changes in the others. All of these ideas are certainly related. Trying to connect them in some linear fashion may seem possible, but it is not.
The more you describe the Internet the less of it you seem to have; it is greater than the sum of its parts. In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig (1974) describes the beauty of the high plains. One of his companions is so awestruck that she takes 360 degrees worth of pictures to capture it, to show her friends the wonder of this place. When the pictures are developed they show very little. The pictures are accurate enough visually, but they do a disservice to the reality of the experience. The Internet cannot be captured in an individual “picture.” Any single picture adds a frame and boundaries that do not exist, but the Internet cannot be contained. These pictures also add focus and prominence to individual items that are not universally prominent. The pictures are stagnant, but the Internet is in a constant state of flux. Just as the high plains have an all-encompassing vastness that is easily experienced but difficult to capture or reproduce, the Internet is often experienced but difficult to translate and express.
Perhaps that is the reason there are things wrong about some of our Internet research. But there are also many things right about it. The continuing discourse allows academics and researchers to build multiple perspectives, and this diversity is appropriate to the reality of the Internet. The Internet is a “network of networks,” each with their own design and unique structure, yet they all follow some basic rules that allow them to interconnect. Social structures of the Internet mimic this design.
Consequently, when doing Internet research, definitions are difficult to come by. Yet good research should start with a definition of what is being studied. This is especially true with broad topics such as the Internet. Perhaps in this case any definition will do. A topic such as the Internet is large enough that starting points can be anywhere. Research often starts in the middle without stating that middle. The perception is, “I think we all know what we are talking about.” Usually, the reality is, “I think I know something and assume that this is shared by all readers.” The diversity of the Internet defies simple explanations or shared opinions.
Social science research on the Internet generally divides into two main categories. The first has to do with the abilities to search and retrieve data from large data stores. This information flood is not historically new; libraries hold large amounts of information and have search and retrieval capabilities. The Internet and constructs like the World Wide Web are simply faster and perhaps more culturally popular. Greater speed is allowing for, or [Page xix]causing, an information boom. The business and academic market is seeking out volumes of data to produce competitive advantage and improved understanding. (Many individuals feel this same competition in their personal life.) The sheer volume of information has made the access of this information almost impossible. Companies specializing in data mining are capitalizing on the notion that if there is record of specifically everything, any question can be answered specifically. For the researcher, this is perhaps the heart of our misguided pursuits. The thought occurs that if we can track all this, gather all this, then we will know more about all this. In fact, we may know less.
The second research area is into the interactive communication capabilities of the Internet. E-mail, chat rooms, MOOs (multi-user domains object oriented), and MUDs (multi-user domains) are all forms of text-based communication with variations in time, distance, and audience. Web-based publication is a new form of mass communication, and the ability to hyperlink brings a new form of interaction and structure. Research on these topics is truly unique to the Internet. There is no existing parallel social construct, and in many ways, the Internet creates wholly new social constructs. The medium and its use are creating communities that not only would not but could not have formed without the use of the Internet. The development and use of chat rooms, for example, has driven a language and community that is closely knit yet extremely diverse and dispersed.
Divisions do exist between those who study chat groups, listservs, e-mail, rhetoric, culture, race, cross-culture, sexual identity, and any other topic. Because of the sheer volume of archival and real-time data available on any subject, there is the thought that each of these areas holds a place of special regard on the Internet, and that is indeed true. There is often the assertion that this research discovers unique properties of the Internet, when actually, they are properties of the community or group being studied, modified by this new form of technology. Collectively perhaps, this diversity creates an accurate picture of the Internet as a social system.
In many large and small ways, the relationship between the Internet and its communities and academic life is parallel. Both tend to seek some sort of homeostasis and diversity that neither can obtain. Areas of the Internet appear to flourish with diversity of opinion, yet a political correctness is prevalent. Statements divergent from the consensus opinion in any of these groups are usually challenged with a direct relationship to the divergence of the statement. The expectable limits of this diversity are stated formally and informally in all socialized “areas.” Support is given and a language developed [Page xx]recursively supporting the culture and group. These groups often tout their relationships and intermingling with other groups, but there is rarely a deep relationship without one group's swallowing the other.How We Write the History of the Internet
Many scholars are writing about the Internet; it is a popular and lucrative topic capturing the attention of much of the world. As we write, we are shaping the future of the Internet, shaping our ideas about it, and forming popular opinion. Much of what is written points to a personal perspective on the future of the Internet, based on how an individual thinks it will evolve. This is a history we are actively writing.
Our expressions of history and the Internet can be only personal and are valuable only when personalized. This limiting and frustrating result is driven by the personalized nature of the Internet's design. The Internet is sometimes referred to or envisioned as a “networked consciousness.” This idea requires a “we” that does not exist. The Internet is more a networked schizophrenic, with multiple personalities that often have no idea that the others exist and a complex that there is something more unique happening where others are. But as long as one stays within one's communities, he or she is happy and safe. When one ventures out, one is often beaten soundly by varied and adamant opinion, which is interpreted and related as some different place or consciousness.
But who is the “we” in the title of this section? The society that reads articles on the implications of Internet research seems to be the same society that writes those articles. We are the “computer literate,” the “on-line” defining our own societal impact. Does that matter? What are the implications of answers to questions such as, Who is writing the history of the Internet? Can the choir gain a correct social perspective on their church? Does the method of electronic publication and its often lower standards of critical review have an effect on the significance of this kind of writing? Does this technology drive academic research, or does research drive the technology?
A definitive history of the Internet of our times is decades from being written. The various perspectives being written now are the basis on which we build this history. The continuing diversity of opinion and comment allow the continuing diversity of development that has been the hallmark of the Internet.[Page xxi]The Personal Perspective
Everything that I have seen, heard, and experienced has brought me to this point, and I understand nothing but in relationship to me at this point. That sentence is why I keep a journal; it keeps me from walking in circles. Every time I reach some place that appears to be the same, I reach it as a new me and can often then take a new road. This requires a frequent review of the paths chosen and the reasoning behind the choices.
Covey, Merrill, and Merrill (1994) in their book First Things First wrote about days of development. Day 1 must be completed before Day 2, and each of these days are different for each person. You can't “do” Day 7 until you have “done” the previous six, in order. One can hear and experience everything contained in day 7 but won't understand it until all of the other days are experienced. For computer users, Day 1 finds us thinking that computers are “against” us. The boolean design of operating systems seems to have an adversarial relationship with users: Who will be the master and who the slave? Everyone at some point realizes that a computer will save and delete files only when told—and without regard to significance or personal investment. (Yes, I just hit save.) Dominance and submission involve systems of values, and we are only beginning to understand how values are embedded in our technologies. We are only scratching the surface of understanding the relationships between software and hardware and the different types of “embeddedness” those involve.
It is important that academics write about their “discovery” of the Internet and its application, because sometimes Day 1 is different in significant ways. The design of the Internet and its social constructs will embrace wholly new dimensions and ideas. Although the underlying structure may remain, the application of it may be completely new, perhaps by accident. Every user takes a slightly different approach to his or her use of the Internet, and each has a slightly different expectation. These variations can create whole new uses. Internet-unique forms of communication have been driven this way; various acronyms (LOL—laughing out loud), symbol systems such as emoticons (“smilies”);∧), and fantasy environments such as textual virtual reality were all created by users to make the Internet more robust. These advances often result from a poor understanding of the existing social or practical “rules” of the Internet.
Researchers paying careful attention to these phenomena can produce a very thick and interesting description of the acquisition of a new form of [Page xxii]communication. Multiple examples of this acquisition can provide bedrock for the research on, and the history of, the Internet.The Community of the Internet
Community as a construct is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Internet and one that is too rarely discussed. Community on-line is fluid—perhaps because persona and identity are different, perhaps because structure and time are different, perhaps because the channels are different. Unlike off-line, on-line communities are often constructed and destroyed not because they have challenges with structure, as Carey (see Munson & Warren, 1997) suggests, but because the connection is not time sensitive. Messages are not necessarily sent in real time and can often remain on listservs or in digests for months or years. If you believe that the community exists as long as people are reading and participating with and through these messages, then the community may come and go as people discover the messages.
It takes little time or structure to create community on-line, and therefore, the effort to maintain structure and community is not as highly valued. The maintenance of on-line community is different, making the community different. There is no need to actively seek out and interact with on-line communities, to perform relational maintenance. When there is something to say, the community comes to you or you go to the community. Often, people post messages to a “community” asking if the community is still there. Who can answer that question? If the servers and addresses are functional, is the community there? Do you have to respond for the community to exist? Is the simple fact that you get a message confirmation of the community?
The academic and professional communities formed on the Internet are “together” on-line, and although we are physically closer at conventions and conferences, the sense of on-line community is lost by physical co-location. The medium has changed and so has the community. The medium has such an effect on the community as to define it. Community relationships formed on-line allow an access and intimacy not transferred to other situations. On-line messages can be sent at any time and to anyone and can be responded to when time is available. This level of access does not transfer to face-to-face situations where different social, personal, and community rules exist.[Page xxiii]Owning the New Frontier
The Internet is available with the correct hardware and connection; one does not have to sign in or pay an initiation fee, insofar as the actual connections (as opposed to access) to the Internet, and its contents are without charge. The connection point is not significant in terms of entrance. The Internet is not in one place more than it is in another. Where a piece of information is when it is on the Internet is a little hard to describe. It is on some computer somewhere (maybe even on one's own), but it is available anywhere the Internet is.
This collapse of distance between the source and the receiver is unique to human experience and creates a setting in which negotiation for ownership and fair use is a constant debate. The Internet is in many ways the Wild West, the new frontier of our times, but its limits will not be reached. The Internet, as a place, is finite in size. At any one time, it has a definable size; there are a certain number of computers, a certain number of nodes, and so on. The Internet does not have an edge to push past, no wall or ocean to contain it. Its size and shape change constantly, and additions and subtractions do not inherently make something new or different. Local computer systems often create a “firewall,” a hardware and software division that keeps the Internet out and the internal information in. For social scientists, a firewall should not be thought of as a wall but as a different existence. Things that are on the Internet exist there; things with passwords or limited availability are parts of a different network, which may share some of the same hardware.
This point of view makes ownership a complicated thing. If you put something on the Internet, it exists there. Limiting where it can be, given the above perspective, takes it off the Internet and puts it somewhere else. If you cannot control the access and use of something, can you own it in the traditional sense of the word? The Internet has gained popularity and acceptance by allowing free access to valuable information. For something to have value, in the Western sense of the word, there must be some way to collect that value, some form, although possibly indirect, of monetary compensation, of exchange of capital. For the next few years, the Internet and those on it will fight a battle of value: How shall we keep something universally accessible and of value? The situation is similar to the development of the American West from the West known to Native Americans. The new frontier of the Internet is in some senses being overrun by the advance of commerce. The divisions and rules of ownership that established territories, and then [Page xxiv]states, out of an untamed and largely unregulated land built the American West and destroyed forever the free and untamed lands. Perhaps the “advance” is inevitable, for all its good and bad. Luckily, the ability to archive and store data, and the very nature of time on the Internet, produces electronic ghost towns that can be revived. The flexibility of the Internet allows for rapid progress—and if need be, a rapid retreat. The variety of networks, in this network of networks, allows for a rich and diverse social experiment centered on how the Internet defines its value. It is the responsibility of those researching the Internet to view critically these various experiments and comment on their implications.Conclusion
As I said at the beginning, I am not sure I know what the Internet is, and I don't know if that matters. Given the rapid pace of development and the way the world has rushed to adopt this new technology, any definition is fleeting. As for Internet research, researching the hard to understand, the hard to define, and the rapidly changing is perhaps one of the most invigorating of academic pursuits. The analogy of the Internet as a forest composed of thousands of separate and unique trees is appropriate, but we are still at the point where we have to gain a better understanding of the trees themselves, before the forest makes any sense.References1994). First things first: To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster., , & (1997). James Carey: A critical reader. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press., & (1974). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. New York: Bantam.(
About the Contributors[Page 295]
Elisia Cohen is a student in the master's program in communication at Wake Forest University. She also serves as one of the debate coaches for the University debate team.
Robert W. Colman (email@example.com) teaches at Penn State Harrisburg, where he serves as Coordinator of the Community Psychology Program, Associate Director of the Center for Community Action and Research, and Assistant Professor of Social Science and Psychology. A social psychologist, he joined the research project through his interest in its methodology.
James T. Costigan is pursuing a master's degree in communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he works in Virtual Reality Research at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). He has worked in the high-tech industry serving in the technical direction of conferences such as SIGGRAPH and the National Association of Broadcaster's Multi Media World. With several EVL alumni, he formed VRCO, a virtual reality software and consulting company.
Norman K. Denzin is College of Communications Scholar and Research Professor of Communications, Sociology, and Humanities at the University of Illinois, Urbana. He is coeditor of The Handbook of Qualitative Research, editor of the Sociological Quarterly, and coeditor of Qualitative Inquiry. His most recent book is Interpretive Ethnography: Ethnographic Practices for[Page 296]the 21st Century. In 1997, he received the George Herbert Mead Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.
Nicole Ellison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is currently writing a dissertation on information and communication technology and the changing culture and geography of the workplace.
Jan Fernback (email@example.com) received her PhD from the Center for Mass Media Research at the University of Colorado and is Assistant Professor of Communication at Regis University in Denver. She has published works on the cultural and philosophical issues surrounding new communication technologies. She is currently writing on utopianism and new media technologies.
Laura Garton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation is based on a whole network study of computer-mediated communication within an organizational context. Employing a social network perspective, she examines how the introduction of a multimedia space technology creates new opportunities and new constraints on the relations and interaction patterns among distributed work groups.
Steven B. Goldberg (email@example.com) is a Trustee's Scholar in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California. He was the software engineer for the “Drinking Maiden” project.
Teresa M. Harrison (Harrison@Vm.its.rpi.edu) is Associate Professor in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. She is coeditor of Computer Networking and Scholarly Communication in the Twenty-First-Century University (1996).
Caroline Haythornthwaite (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Her research examines who communicates with whom about what and via which media. Research includes a social network study of members of an academic research group, placing their [Page 297]information exchange and media use in the context of their work needs and interpersonal ties. Research in progress examines reciprocity and coorientation in computer-mediated communication, and information exchange and development of community among distance learners.
Steve Jones (email@example.com) is Professor and head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His other books include CyberSociety 2.0, Virtual Culture, CyberSociety, and Rock Formation. He is editor of New Media Cultures, a series of books on culture and technology, and coeditor of New Media & Society. In addition to his scholarly work, Jones has provided Internet consulting services to many corporations and not-for-profit organizations. He has also been a featured speaker at numerous scholarly, government, and industry-sponsored seminars and conferences.
Sandra Lee Katzman (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches English in Tokyo and reports for Reuters Health. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Her opinion articles have appeared in the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times. She is an active member of the National Association of Science Writers of America.
Lori Kendall (email@example.com) received her Ph.D. from the Sociology Department at the University of California, Davis, and is currently a Lecturer in that department. Her research explores the performance of identities online. Her dissertation, an ethnography of BlueSky, focuses in particular on the intersections of masculinities and computer technology.
Jason Lucas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is currently finishing a master's degree and will pursue his PhD in communication at Ohio University next fall.
Margaret McLaughlin (email@example.com) is Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. She is coeditor of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and coeditor of Network and Netplay: The Virtual Group on the Internet.[Page 298]
Ananda Mitra (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Assistant Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He has published in the areas of critical studies, popular culture, and technology, particularly about the conditions in South East Asia and about South East Asian immigrants. He teaches courses in communication, technology, and culture.
Barbara F. Sharf (email@example.com) is Professor of Speech-Communication and Professor of Medical Humanities at Texas A&M University. She is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters in health communication, medical humanities, and medical education. Recent and current research projects focus on the rhetoric of breast cancer discourse, narrative analysis of patient-doctor interactions, and a text in health communication.
Simeon J. Simoff (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Research Fellow at the Key Centre of Design Computing, University of Sydney. Dr. Simoff attained his doctorate at Moscow Power Engineering Institute, Russia, where he was also an Assistant Professor. He has been a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Middle East Technical University, Gaziantep Campus, Turkey, and at the Intercultural Open University, The Netherlands. His current research interests are in data mining and analysis, information systems, knowledge modeling and representation, multimedia communication, and distance learning. He has published more than 50 papers in journals, books, and proceedings and is coauthor of a forthcoming book on virtual design studios.
James J. Sosnoski is Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Token Professionals and Master Critics: A Critique of Orthodoxy in Literary Studies, and Modern Skeletons in Postmodern Closets: A Cultural Studies Alternative, as well as various essays on literary and pedagogical theory, computer-assisted pedagogy, and on-line collaboration. He has been a member of the Modern Language Association's Delegate Assembly, Ethics Committee, and Emerging Technologies Committee. He is collaborating with David Downing on Living on Borrowed Terms, a study of the use of terminology in literary and rhetorical studies, and with Patricia Harkin on Arguing Cultures, a textbook and Web site on contemporary persuasive practices.
Timothy Stephen (Stephen@cios.org) is Associate Professor in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic [Page 299]Institute, Troy, New York. He is coeditor of Computer Networking and Scholarly Communication in the Twenty-First-Century University (1996)
Jonathan Sterne (email@example.com) is completing a PhD in communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His dissertation, The Audible Past, is a history of sound reproduction.
Fay Sudweeks (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Research Associate at the University of Sydney and a doctoral candidate in communication at the University of Wollongong. She also has degrees in Psychology and Cognitive Science. She has given lectures in Israel, Sweden, Germany, Bulgaria, and Russia and has coordinated a large international collaborative project on computer-mediated communication. Her research interests are the social, cultural, and economic aspects of computer-mediated communication. Her latest coedited book is Network and Netplay: Virtual Groups on the Internet. Recent activities include coediting a special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC), serving as editor of the Design Computing Newsletter and JCMC Newsletter, editorial board member of JCMC, and CMC editor of the interactive International Journal of Design Computing.
Barry Wellman (email@example.com) learned to keypunch at Harvard in 1964. He is now Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, where he has been e-mailing since 1976. Wellman founded the International Network for Social Network Analysis in 1976 and is currently the Electronic Advisor to the American Sociological Association and the Chair-Elect of the ASA's Community and Urban Sociology section. He is also the leader of the Virtual Community focus area for SIGGROUP/ACM. In addition to his papers on community, computer-supported cooperative work, and social network analysis, Wellman coedited Social Structures: A Network Approach (1997) and edited Networks in the Global Village (1998).
Diane F. Witmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Associate Professor of Communication at California State University, Fullerton. Her research interests include computer-mediated communication and organizational communication, and her work has appeared in Communication Monographs and the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. She is an active member of the National Communication Association and the International Communication Association.
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