I have a meeting tomorrow with a leader of a product group at a Silicon Valley-based household name. On the itinerary, I’m described as “a PhD student who has worked on use of social media and etc. by science and engineering research groups”. I’ve been asked to come up with a 3-5 minute introduction for myself. Here’s my rough draft:
Your itinerary shows that I’ve worked on social media use by science and engineering communities. Another way to think about what I do is to call it social computing for existing (or emerging) social systems. My work is with distributed teams, and it’s different from much of the existing ecommunity work because the teams I study know each other. They may not be close socially or geographically, but they are familiar with each other and have almost always met face-to-face. They’re working together toward some goal that requires them to collaborate (e.g. getting a new building technology to market) or benefits greatly from collaboration (e.g. getting through grad school). They span a variety of distributions — whether their offices are states or continents apart, whether their disciplines seem distant, and how they span the spectrum from novice to expert.
Two of the projects I work with now that explore the use of social computing by existing communities are the CI TEAM grant and KNOW SI. In the CI TEAM grant we explore how engineers developing and testing a new building material work together across institutional and national boundaries to establish standards for testing the material and for training new users of the material. The CI TEAM group uses a content management system with features somewhat like Yahoo! Groups to share their data and discuss it. CI TEAM builds on earlier large-scale scientific collaborations that used the same tools but had very different motivations and goals for collaboration. What I’ve found most interesting in these scientific research collaboration projects is how unlikely users are to adopt a technology specifically for their projects. Users love email and Excel but ignore wikis, archived email lists, and file repositories.
KNOW SI is a PhD student-led project with many goals. Mine is to use KNOW SI as a way to understand how people in organizations, such as schools, use available technologies to share information with one another. In KNOW SI, I helped set up an iterative series of wikis for use by the community, and we’re analyzing that use and preparing the next generation wiki. What’s surprised me here is how willing various groups are to use the same underlying technology. For example, doctoral students are all over the wiki. We’re our own audience though. The Research and Career Services offices have different audiences — master’s students and the public for two — but are exploring the same technology.
Together these projects provide a variety of settings for me to explore information and technology use in different kinds of collaborations.