Trip report – Association of Internet Researchers Conference

 

Last week, October 6-9, 2005, I attended the Association of Internet Researchers (http://aoir.org/) annual conference, Internet Research 6.0:  Generations held this year in Chicago Illinois.  The Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) is

 

…an academic association dedicated to the advancement of the cross-disciplinary field of Internet studies. It is a resource and support network promoting critical and scholarly Internet research independent from traditional disciplines and existing across academic borders. The association is international in scope.

 

This trip report contains notes about some of the sessions I attended.  Links are to conference materials, usually including abstracts.

            The number of disasters in the last four years has lead to a healthy research stream looking at how the internet has been used in everything from 9/11 to the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster.  Several panels were presented around the theme of Disaster Response, I attended two of them and presented in one of the two.  In the first panel on October 6, I saw three papers each attacking the subject of disaster from a different angle.  In A Four Year Farming Generation, Chris Hagar of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at internet use following the Foot and Mouth (Hoof and Mouth) Disease outbreak in the Britain.  Hagar took a longitudinal approach and has done successive interviews with her rural participants.  One finding that I found interesting was that governmental information on the disease outbreak and the response to it was primarily posted online even though, at the time, very few of the farmers had access to the internet.  Since the outbreak though, and possibly because of the known availability on governmental farming information online, the number of farmers with personal internet access has grown significantly.

            In her presentation of the AoIR Student Paper Award winner, Framing the Post 9/11 World:  American French and Brazilian Digital Communities Devoted to September 11th and Its Consequences, Laura Robinson, Dept. of Sociology University of California at Los Angeles talked about the differences between the three venues particularly in the themes of their discussion.  Robinson showed that American participants in a U.S. based discussion board showed solidarity and quelled analytical or negative discussion of what may have lead to the attack.  The French site was more open to such discussion and the Brazilian site was somewhat bifurcated in that Brazilians currently residing in Brazil were more likely to undertake such discussions while the Brazilian diaspora, particularly those residing in the U.S. were not as open to their points of view.

            Daniel Kutz, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University Bloomington presented preliminary findings from a joint project that is taking place between IUB and the Center on Organizational Innovation at Columbia University.  Their study looks at the participatory involvement by the public in the use of the Internet as a medium for querying the public at large and communicating deliberative results. 

            In the second Disaster Response, for which online links were unavailable, panel Robert Luke discussed the ways that critical information transfer are implemented in Code Orange situations.  Luke’s stories of how information is gathered and transmitted during mock disasters was very interesting, in particular I found the use of information kiosks by the Toronto emergency services to be well thought out.

            Andre Brock of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign discussed the Coverage of Katrina on African-American Websites.  In particular he looked at how the coverage differed between personal websites and those hosted by major black magazine sites.

            In the presentation Toward a Conceptual Framework for Web-Based Memorializing, Kristen Foot, University of Washington discussed her work with two collaborators in developing a conceptual framework for online memorial sites. The work is based on their individual and joint projects that began with the 9/11 disaster and have continued since that time.

            Sahar Selod, a Sociology graduate student and her advisor Lauren Langman from Loyola University discussed The Role of Blogging on Shaping Perception of Katrina. In particular they focused on the theoretical grounding for such studies and then moved into examples.  As I write this the example that is clearest in my mind is the timeline that links the “downfall” of Michael Brown with information that was originally posted on a blog.  Brown in Congressional Testimony linked his resignation to that specific information and to the blogs publication of it.

            Finally in the Disaster Response vein, I gave a pedagogical presentation titled Teaching Hurricane Katrina based on a lesson plan I used in a recent I101 lecture and lab.  My presentation was very well received and it has been suggested that I should write a paper and submit it to a teaching publication. 

            Research ethics has been a key interest of AoIR, and as a researcher who works with a protected population – teens online – I have become heavily involved in the general discussion.  From the panel on Internet Research Ethics I focused on three of the presenters comments.  First, Charles Ess told the attendees about specific incidents where the Association’s Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research has been used by both researchers and local Institutional Review Boards to frame their work with internet subjects.  Second, Susannah Stern discussed her current thinking about an online researcher’s duty when they are exposed to unexpected information related to an online subjects potential for harming themselves or others.  Stern also works with teen populations online and we had a good discussion about these points.  Finally, Lori Kendall discussed her current work in adding an online research ethics class into the required graduate ethics class at UIUC.

            During the Research Approaches session Lilia Efimova, Telematica Instituut The Netherlands, discussed her research looking at her blog and the social network that evolves out that publication venue.  Lilia’s approach combines social network analysis, knowledge management, and auto/ethnography to analyze the relationships between the blogs.

            The CMC Characteristics Panel, which I chaired, began our second day of sessions.  Sally McMillan, University of Tennessee, presenting for two co-authors, discussed their experimental project in website design and interactivity.  Of interest was her distinction between human-to-human and human-to-content interactions.  I will need to read the paper to have a clear understanding on what theoretical framing she is using, but I found the discussion very useful to my work.  In particular it appears by using this frame there would be two levels of interaction within blog content, the human-to-human interaction present through the addressing of the posts, comments, and trackbacks, and the human-to-content overlaid on all three types of content.

            In the session titled Online and Offline Connections:  Adult & Youth Jenna Burrell, London School of Economics, presented part of her dissertation work looking at Telling Stories of Internet Fraud in Communities of Young Cybercafé users in Accra Ghana.  Her ethnographic work found that primarily male cybercafé users believe that their interactions with westerners in internet chatrooms and through instant messaging will reap financial rewards for themselves.  Rumors of the acquisition of wealth and consumer products received from chat partners were common.  Unlike the common rhetorical construction of an urban legend in “one of my friend’s friends” had this happen the participants stated that their friends had been successful in gaining financial rewards through internet scams.  Burrell did not meet anyone who had actually received money or gifts from the westerners they spoke to online.

            In the Emergent Geographies II:  Discovery panel my research team at IUB, the BROG Project, presented Conversation and Connectivity in the Blogosphere.  The paper looks at the interconnectivity between a subset of blogs drawn from a large dataset used in a previous project.

            I attended the keynote address by Sonya Livingstone, London School of Economics, on the third day.  Livingstone presented results from her large scale study of children’s online behavior in the UK gleaned through surveys and interviews with both children and their parents.  Of particular interest was her discussion of the behind the scenes discussions that go into question formation.  I also was intrigued with a series of slides she presented illustrating the changing relationships between a child, school, parents, the state, and commerce.  Livingstone explained how Habermas’ theories were applied to original illustration to achieve a four square graphic incorporating themes of public and private spheres.

            The final panel for the day was titled Visuals:  Photoblogs and Visual Communication and included two interesting panels each looking at different facets of the incorporation of visual and photographic elements into blogs.  First Eric Meyer, Indiana University, presented for himself and two co-authors on their research applying Kling and Iocono’s theory of computational movements to the growing universe of photoblogs. 

            In Katrina Jungnickle’s, INCITE University, presentation on her ethnographic work studying stories of the 73 Roadmaster Bus Route in London entitled Ways of Seeing and Researching the Blog, she used a fascinating array of visual elements to illustrate her data.  These elements include a bus box (I have one in my office if you want to see what she has done), cards that include illustrations of the stories she has collected and graphics to represent the stories, as well as innovative website design elements to both parse the data for the viewer and present it in an attractive fashion.   

            Finally on Sunday morning I attended the presentations of the two top award winners in the Carl J. Couch Internet Research Awards for 2005.  Both papers looked at social interaction in computer-mediated communication venues including blogs and email exchanges.

            Next years conference will take place in Brisbane Australia in late September.  The call for papers and exhibitions will likely be published in early February 2006.  Please consider submitting either a research paper or an artistic exhibition for next years conference.