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Winners Come Last

There is only one set of sessions at AoIR 2005 this Sunday morning, almost as something of an afterthought (and a few people have already left for the airport, also having to negotiate the traffic disruptions caused by the Chicago Marathon this morning). Which is a bit of a shame, seeing that the session I'm attending now contains this year's winners of the Carl J. Couch Center Internet Research Award, that is, the three best student papers submitted for the conference.

Ericka Menchen Trevino: What Motivates Bloggers?

Ericka Menchen Trevino from the University of Illinois at Chicago, this year's first-placed entrant, is the first speaker. Her study investigates the motivations of bloggers, and she begins by noting that some of the things being said about blogging now were said less than a decade ago about plain old homepages as well. However, blogs of course are updated relatively regularly, which means that there is a certain level of commitment to them even if hosted blogs have made it very easy to create a blog.

Towards New Modes for ICT-Supported Education

The first of the afternoon sessions this Saturday at the 2005 AoIR conference is on 'New Research and Learning Models'. The first paper is by Trena Paulus from the University of Tennessee and Vanessa Dennen from Florida State University.

Trena Paulus and Vanessa Dennen: New Approaches to Analysing Asynchronous Interaction

Their main interest is in asynchronous discussion environments in higher education. There still is a lack of definition of what learning actually means - there is a need to look at the group processes involved, which are very dynamic, rich, and almost mysterious in an online context. Learning is a collaborative knowledge building activity, and it is about becoming a member of a discourse community. Current studies show limited attention to context, as well as to the ebb and flow of the dialogue, however; current measures of participation give points for posts, which rewards presence but emphasises quantity over quality and the individual over the group.

Trends in Photoblogging

I came a little late to this next session at AoIR 2005 - we've already started a presentation on photoblogging by Eric Meyer, Howard Rosenbaum, and Noriko Hara from Indiana University.

Eric Meyer, Howard Rosenbaum, and Noriko Hara: Trends across Photoblogging Sites

The purists' definition of photoblogging is as chronological blogging using photos; photoblogs.org distinguishes clearly between photoblogs and galleries, but in practice that division isn't as clear: various approaches to Flickr use, for example, blur the line. Some people do use Flickr as a kind of photoblogging, which also enables tagging and commenting on photos, for example.

New Media and the Younger Generations

The keynote speaker at the 2005 Association of Internet Researchers conference today is Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics, speaking on emerging children's and young people's literacy of the Internet. What's new about young people's Internet use? To begin with, of course some very old moral concerns have followed from old to new media - the same moral panics which emerged around comic books or television now follow the Internet. This also demonstrates that the new media supplement rather than displace older media; familiar social norms reassert themselves in the way that the Internet is used in everyday life. The same context frames are applied in the way that new media are understood.

A Mixed Bag of Filesharing, WiFi, and Me Talking about Wikinews

And we're in the first Association of Internet Researchers conference session for Saturday - unfortunately I couldn't blog the first presenter as she was running her Powerpoint off my laptop. Sunyi Lee from Northwestern University presented on possible business and licencing models for p2p filesharing, and ended with a useful point on the change of the conceptualisation of music, from music as product (selling CDs, DVDs, etc.) to music as service - where users may pay for access rather than distinct units of merchandise.

Sorin Matei: Mapping WiFi and Encryption in Lexington

The second speaker is Sorin Matei from Purdue University, presenting on the process of diffusion in wireless networks. Can there be a predictive model for the diffusion and encryption standards in wireless networking technologies (focussing here on WiFi, 802.11 standards)? What is interesting about WiFi is that at least in the beginning it was a replacement techniology for ethernet LANs, but was soon sold as a technology of freedom (from wires) in the residential market, creating always-on, personal connectivity. Further, WiFi can also be seen as a 'realm of dissent' in which the 'community network' movement can reinvent itself.

Approaches to Blog Analysis

The last session for today starts with a massively multi-authored paper on Conversation and connectivity in the blogosphere from a group of researchers at Indiana University - I'm counting some seven names on the by-line. Elijah Wright is the first spokesperson.

BROG Group: What Is the Level of Conversations in Blogs?

Elijah begins with some basic definitions of the blogosphere as the intellectual cyberspace inhabited by bloggers, and of blogs as community and blogging as social interaction. There are therefore some very significant claims that have been made of the conversational potential of blogging - but how much conversation is taking place in the blogosphere, and how much social interaction do they therefore support?

Transforming Society through Mobile Technologies

The first post-lunch session on this second AoIR 2005 day is on 'Mobile Technologies and Societal Transformation'.

Gitte Stald: Mobile Phone Use amongst Danish Youth

Gitte Stald from the University of Copenhagen is the first speaker, presenting on democracy and citizenship possibilities in a mobile Internet environment. Mobile media are already integrated with a large part of everyday life in developed nations; of course we have always been mobile, both in  a geographical as well as symbolic sense. But today, digital media provide us with the locality and space for interaction, exchange, and proximity.

Digital Formations: On Not Being Blinded by Technology

The Friday keynote session at AoIR 2005 is by Saskia Sassen from the University of Chicago, speaking on the intersections of technical and social logics in electronic space. Her presentation will mainly focus on a project of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in the U.S., exploring the question of how social science research can take IT seriously but not be governed by it. What are categories, like IT, actually obscuring when they are used? How would social science constitute the object of study, taking technology seriously but not being blinded by it? Especially in interdisciplinary research team s, it is important not to dilute one another's discourses, and instead to develop ways of working together which maintain the full depth of what each field has to bring to the table.

Dynamics of Chat Spaces

My first session on this second day of the Association of Internet Researchers conference 2005 in Chicago is on the 'Internal Dynamics of Online Spaces'.

Janet Armentor-Cota: Uses of Web Chat

Janet Armentor-Cota from Syracuse University is the first speaker, presenting on the dynamics of a Web chat community. The paper she presents here is coming out of her dissertation, and looks at a Northeast (U.S.) romance chat room. Web chat, of course, is usually real time, multi-participant, and consists of messages of short length, with almost constant traffic around the clock. Web chat is also a multimedia phenomenon and can incorporate images and audio and video streams. So, how do processes and structures of multimedia technologies organise the chat space, and what processes occur here?

Measuring Web-Based Networks

The next session at AoIR 2005 is on 'Emerging Research Methods for Analysing Civic Engagement'. Kenneth Farrall from the University of Pennsylvania makes a start. His paper is co-authored with Michael delli Carpini.

Kenneth Farrall: Web Graph Analysis

Kenneth begins by outlining perceptions of the Internet as alternatively a tool for revitalising democracy, or for furthering its decline. There are various approaches to analysing its role in this, from content analysis and user surveys to social network analysis, which appears to be a very useful technique for analysing user engagement in the Internet. But such analysis is difficult in an Internet context as social network associations online are highly fluid, and Kenneth suggests that content analysis may be useful to address such problems. 

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