Internet emerges as social research tool

Feb 14, 2009 by Val Osowski

For the past two decades, the Internet has been used by many as an easy-to-use tool that enables the spread of information globally. Increasingly, the Web is moving beyond its use as an electronic "Yellow Pages" and online messaging platform to a virtual world where social interaction and communities can inform social science and its applications in the real world.

"Although social scientists, engineers and physical scientists have studied the World Wide Web as an entity in and of itself for some time, there is now a growing group of social scientists who are learning how to use the World Wide Web as a tool for research rather than as a subject of research," said Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University researcher and director of the university's Environmental Science and Policy Program.

Today, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, a panel of scientists organized by Dietz planned to examine various aspects of using the World Wide Web as a tool for research.

University of Michigan political science professor Arthur Lupia was to kick off the session by discussing how new virtual communities are improving surveys and transforming social science.

"Lupia is one of the world's leaders related to survey research on the Web," Dietz said. "His focus is on learning to use the Web as a way of soliciting people's opinions and getting factual information from them via online surveys."

Adam Henry, a doctoral fellow in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University's Center for International Development, was scheduled next to discuss measuring social networks using the World Wide Web.

"Henry is developing very innovative ways to identify networks that are actual face-to-face relationships by tracking evidence streams on the Web," Dietz said. "In other words, it's not simply about who's connected to whom on Facebook or Twitter, but who's doing research with whom in the real world. It's using the virtual world to identify things that are going on in the real world rather than using the virtual world simply to look at the virtual world."

William Bainbridge, program director for the National Science Foundation's Human-Centered Computing Cluster, was to rounded out the presentation with a discussion on the role of social science in creating virtual worlds.

"Bainbridge is studying group formation and social change over time in virtual worlds such as 'World of Warcraft' and 'Second Life' to inform and build on what sociologists have studied for 150 years,"

Dietz said. "He contends that virtual worlds are excellent laboratories for observing and prototyping new social forms that can later be applied to the outside world."

Following the presentations, National Science Foundation sociology director Patricia White was to discuss implications of this research related to the future of social science.

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Engineers develop gift guide for parents

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Peer review is fraught with problems, and we need a fix

Nov 18, 2014

Dirty Harry once said, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one". Now that the internet has made it easier than ever to share an unsolicited opinion, traditional methods of academic review are beginning ...

Talking to aliens

Nov 17, 2014

What do you say to a space alien? This question might not be the foremost puzzle in your life, but it was the subject of a lively two-day conference at California's SETI Institute this week.

A thousand years of environmental change in Polynesia

Nov 14, 2014

Environmental change is nothing new in Polynesia. For centuries, the inhabitants of the volcanic, sea-battered islands have been employing a variety of strategies to adapt to their changing landscapes.

HTML5 reaches 'Recommendation' status

Oct 29, 2014

W3C stands for World Wide Web Consortium, and the W3C HTML Working Group is responsible for this specification's progress. As the title suggests, they have a far-reaching job of watching out for the progress ...

Stanford Libraries unearths the earliest US website

Nov 09, 2014

Some of the earliest pages from the World Wide Web have been restored and are once again browsable, providing a glimpse of how the web once operated. Stanford Libraries has made these pages available with ...

The quick brown fox can help secure your passwords online

Oct 28, 2014

In 2004 Bill Gates pronounced usernames and passwords dead. Gates, a man consistently thinking ahead of the crowd, was right. Most of us – including our employers and the online services we rely on – just ...

Recommended for you

Engineers develop gift guide for parents

Nov 21, 2014

Faculty and staff in Purdue University's College of Engineering have come up with a holiday gift guide that can help engage children in engineering concepts.

Former Brown dean whose group won Nobel Prize dies

Nov 20, 2014

David Greer, a doctor who co-founded a group that won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for working to prevent nuclear war and who helped transform the medical school at Brown University, has died. He was 89.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.