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Links to my published articles online
List of Publications with Full Citations

Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre

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Common Visual Design Elements of Weblogs

Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

Buxom Girls and Boys in Baseball Hats: Adolescent Avatars in Graphical Chat Spaces

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Last updated July 8, 2005.

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Last Updated November 22, 2005.

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

December 16, 2005

But can I use the data?

Christina left the following comment to my post CFP - 3rd Annual Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem and I think it needs more public response than can be done in a response comment.

As a new student -- would using this data get me in trouble with the IRB (obviously not and answerable question in the specific sense, but in general)? They scraped this stuff off the web w/out permission? Obviously no anonymizing if they include what they say... Thoughts?

First any comment I make needs to be double checked with your universities policies. While there are national, and here I mean U.S. based, guidelines individual schools may exceed these regulations to tailor their requirements to their campus. Obviously anything I say does not apply to non-U.S. based scholars, the U.S. is not the trend setter in these issues.

Now let's parse this out a bit.

The data that has been scraped and loaded on the available DVD is publicly available, or we can assume that to be so from the information the conference committee has presented to date. The issue of publicaly available data and CMC has been much debated - public nature of communication vs. expectation of privacy in public, etc. I respect everyones point of view on this as I don't really think there is a right answer to the conundrum. I can tell you how I look at it - if it's public than it's public. Now one of the unique things about the "public" part of this discussion is that permission is not required, in essence they gave their permission when they hit "submit." My analogy for blog posts is letters to the editor in your local newspaper, granted it's an imperfect analogy but it is not a bad one.

Will you get in trouble with your IRB if you use the data? Well yeah if you present or publish from this dataset without going through your local IRB you should get in trouble. An application to the IRB to use this dataset would be fairly straight forward under the "existing dataset" clause. I separated out presenting and publishing from classroom work because many universities have "student" policies that allow for work to be done in the classroom that is exempt from the overall application process. This is done because "classroom" work is teaching and learning based not really research. Where this falls apart is for grad and particularly doctoral students, if you do the research without IRB approval you can never present or publish the work...yes I said NEVER. You can do, as I have done, the classroom work as preliminary research, than apply to the IRB, use the methodology and research questions on a new dataset and than present and publish your results. I should note that research with special populations is never exempt, well not in my experience at least, so all of my classroom work with teens went through the IRB process irregardless of my intent to present or publish.

Finally the issue of anonymizing is really a subset of participant protection. Most medical studies use anonymization to protect subjects in their studies. But for us social science types one of the first questions we must struggle with when looking at our research is do we believe in privacy above all else or in tempered privacy? This is no small discussion and really forces one to tear into your personal underlying ethical framework. For me I don't think the discussion will ever be over but I have come to a functional truce with myself.

I don't believe in blanket anonymization. I don't usually do research that has a more than everyday level of harm as an outcome. When I can't decide on the level of possible harm, I stray on the side of protection and have anonymized. That's my history. So for my blog research, even that which has been done looking at teen sites, I don't anonymize. The data is public, I'm not shining a brighter light on their work than exists previously. It's out there, it's alreasy searchable so it's open to all.

Two side issues I have with anonymizing are 1) by changing names to anonymize a site I may be protecting my subject but may also be inadvertently highlighting a non-participant who uses the anonymous name I select for my participant. I think this is a big issue that is rarely addressed when people talk about anonymizing public data. Second, as a qualitative researcher, anonymizing lowers the replicability of my study, now sometimes the need for privacy supersedes this preference...but it must be reviewed in the process of making decisions on methodology.

One question I asked myself when I posted the original call, is has any IRB reviewed this process up to this point? University of Washington may have done so since Eytan Adar is a student there. But BlogPulse wouldn't need IRB approval to pull data from their proprietary sources, they can do that at any time. Either way individual researchers will need to apply with their university IRB to use this existing dataset.

Posted by prolurkr at December 16, 2005 06:23 PM

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Thanks for the answer... actually, we have to go to the IRB for even preliminary work or as you said, we'll never be able to publish it and our dissertations won't be accepted by the school.

I think you make some very good points, but we had this same discussion at my institution about using mailing list archives -- when you post to a mailing list that is archived on the web or has hundreds of members, you shouldn't expect any privacy; yet, the consensus seems to be that that information has to be anonymized. What I heard from our intro to research class is that you're using it in a way other than what it was intended. OTOH, web sites do not fall into this category...

So rambling comment at an end: are blogs like discussion list posts or like websites. You're leaning website, I'm thinking public e-mail.

Posted by: Christina Pikas at December 18, 2005 12:32 AM

I don't split up the concept quite that way Christina.

My first level of question the data public or private? So if a listserv is archived online and publicaly accessible then my use of it for research is different than say a listserv that isn't archived.

Then for those that are "private" the question is what does it take to gain access? So say I want to use a listserv that requires registration but everyone who registers gains access, that would be different than say a group where one must register and be vetted before access is allowed. Of course topic comes into play here too...but often the topic has already been considered when setting up the access to the location.

This is a simplistic breakdown not a comprehensive one...because of course other things come into play as well.

Posted by: Lois at December 18, 2005 03:33 PM