Jul 31, 2009

Organizational intertia

At a recent large academic conference, my paper, for some reason, was given a wrong name. When I asked for it to be correct, I was told that the print program was out, so they could only offer a correction in the form of a leaflet inserted into the program - reasonable. But when I asked them to correct the entry in an online schedule listing, I was told that "since the online program is intended to resemble the final program we cannot make the change there either".


One would think that the very purpose of an online program is to be a better version of the printed one, particularly, one that can be easily changed to reflect changes to schedule... but as we can see from the above, some people still cannot adjust to the realities of the cyberspace (which is ironic because my paper is on an Internet-related subject :D).

Oh well. Being a lowly grad student I know better than to try to reform a major (academic) institution myself. Been there, tried, failed :)

Jul 28, 2009

Youth today... and the future

So I had my final lecture today (teaching university undergrads about "sociology of the family") in the summer class I was teaching, and as usual in my classes, the final lecture looks at the future. We watched a video of Kurzweil, and had a discussion about things like genetic engineering, life expectancy, aging society, the Internet and so on. At one point, however, I was shocked: vast majority of the students seemed very opposed to the idea of immortality (which is increasingly becoming a serious possibility according to some scientists).

Interestingly, theirs were not the arguments I was used to hearing in the past ("it's not natural/it's against the religion/etc."). No, this bunch was rather... very, very pessimistic. They talked about boredom ("why would you want to leave forever? you'll just keep seeing more human misery"), about how the future will be scary (citing sci-fi antiutopias - Huxley, Wells, etc.), about how we have to deal with overpopulation and scarce resources and how immortality is unsustainable, and they even considered (and roughly supported) the idea that the government should make it illegal for people to achieve immortality (!).

I haven't held enough discussions on this subject to know if this group represents an outlier, or is there some current of pessimism about the future that is surfacing about the modern youth?

Being a singularitarian optimist myself I found their pessimism unsettling. Not to want to see the wonders of the future, not to want to live one life's fully... that's what *I* find scary.

Jul 27, 2009

Comparing Wikipedia to Second Life (popularity contest)

I recently found that a Wikipedia-related presentation of mine in a sociological conference (ASA in SF - let me know if anybody else is going there) got shifted to a Second Life track (it was supposed to be about online communities in general, but mysterious are the ways of conference and panel organizers).

So I thought I should at least pay a token attention to SL, and I thought about a brief numerical comparison. It is possible to consider the number of total registered accounts (en-Wiki 2009: ~10 mil, other Wikimedia Foundation projects 2009: ~10 mil, Second Life 2008: ~15 mil) but I run into a problem trying to get a wiki-equivalent of "average/highest number of active editors" (SL in early 2008: ~40,000 - but that's just for people logged in, doesn't say anything about their activity - one can leave a SL client running in the background... just like one can be logged in to Wikipedia for weeks).
What about Wiki? After some thought and discussion and a useful tool that was designed I begun compiling some stats based on a number of unique editors listed at RC page. There is still not enough data to see a clear trend, but numbers seem roughly consistent at about 800 registered users / 400 ips editing en-Wikipedia per hour and 90/30 per 5 minute periods.

As for Alexa traffic rank, SL is at megere ~4000, compared to our Top 10, but that of course simply reflects the fact that Wikipedia is useful for non-logged in users as well.

I wonder if we can indeed answer whether Wikipedia or SL is more popular? Wikipedia is more popular in general, but for logged in (registered) users, which one would be?

Jul 22, 2009

Preeliminary survey results of ICT use by social movements in Pittsburgh

I am a strong believer that science is for the people, not to be locked in ivory towers. Hence, over the coming months I will be publishing a series of blogs documenting research progress in my PhD dissertation, which, roughly, aims to survey and analyze how social movements are using new information and communication tools (think new media - blogs, twitter, wikis, etc.). This analysis should also show the wider public why such research is actually useful :)

To this date, while individual use of some of those tools in organizations was studied, nobody has tried to do a comprehensive analysis of how Internet-era ICT are affecting the social movements. This seems to be to be a major omission on the part of social movement researchers, and I believe that deeper understanding of this issue will be of much use both to the scholars, and to the movement activists themselves.

The first stage of my research involves surveying movements local to my region, which is Pittsburgh. Later stages should provide data on national and international levels.

The Pittsburgh survey takes advantage of the existence of a local social movement coordination organization, the Thomas Merton Center. A downside to this is that TMC has a left wing bias, and thus this survey is likely missing some right wing movements. This should not be an issue with the latter surveys, which will be based on more neutral sampling schemes. TMC list of "justice groups" has approximately 200 entries (193 to be exact), out of which, 125 seem to have or had online presence (i.e. I was able to find their contact info in form of an email (112) or web-based contact form (13)). I should note here that the TMC list has online contact info only for ~15% of the movements, the other 50% I googled myself.

This yields the first interesting statistic: in Pittsburgh region, we can say ~65% of movements have online presence. In other words, a decade into the 21st century, ~35% of local movements have never entered the Internet - an interesting comment on a digital divide, and a contradiction to an existing statistic by Surman (2001) who estimated, nearly a decade ago, that in the developed world, ~90% of voluntary organizations have internet presence. I am already wondering what will be the findings of my larger scale surveys.

Out of 125 online contact addresses, 2 have opted out before from being ever contact for future surveys (according to surveymonkey - the tool I use - database), and 21 have bounced, which indicates to me that that movement is no longer active. Thus the real sample size is 102. Out of those, I have gotten, two weeks and two mailings into the survey, 11 replies (10.7% response rate).

Here I want to heartily thank all the people who have taken time to complete the survey so far, and I should note that the survey is still open (and will be for several weeks), so if you would like to improve our understanding of the ICTs in movements in Pittsburgh, please consider taking the survey :) (please use a personalized email invitation link instead of this one if I have got a survey invitation from me before)

Now, onto the preliminary results. 11 is a relatively low respononse rate, and this does impact the validity of the results somewhat (just a few more responses would do wonders here). If and when I get more responses, I will post an updated analysis. Still, with 11 responses there is enough data to see some interesting patterns. I am bolding those that I found most surprising/interesting:

* all surveyed movements concentrate on local or regional issues
* 80% of surveyed movements are 20 or more years old, all are 5 or more years old
* more responses are need to reliably judge areas of interest, currently, environment, health and social services are the leading areas, but I think this may change if and when more movements reply to my survey
* most movement who replied have few hundreds members
* on average, organizations which replied have ~16 computes connected to the Internet
** Those two may indicate that primarily representatives of larger movements have responded to my survey so far... although it's hard to be sure, as there is no data on size of local movements (maybe most or nearly all movements are that large? Yet somehow I have my doubts here)
* all movements indicate that they have non-members (supporters) who participate in their organization activities, about half have non-members who recruit others for the organization
* member's age distribution seems to be concentrated in the 31-50 range
* majority of respondents think that Internet is very important to the organization (~60% declared it is very important, ~30% as important, only ~10% (=1...) as very unimportant

The second part of the survey, due to its matrix build, needs more replies to be valid; still, here are current highlights:
* face to face communication seems to be the single most important when it comes to management, recruitment, and fund raising, but ICTs become more important when it comes to interacting with other organizations. Usage of traditional mail, websites and emails is popular as well, but there a minority (10-20% = 1-2) of respondents indicate that their movements use new innovative technologies (blogs, internet foras, social tagging, social networking, Twitter, etc.).
* about half of the respondents agree that younger members are much more likely to use the Internet; only 15% disagree
* Internet seems to be used equally by all members, no matter what their rank in the organization
* Usage of tools is dependent on their recentness, more or less as we would expect, although interestingly, texting is used by three organizations - but only in since about a year
* There is strong correlation between ICTs - whether pre-Internet or post-Internet - and a feeling that they give both the individual and the organization more of a say. I would like to say that the the new ICTs are slightly more correlated with that then the old ones, but validity is really an issue here (more replies are needed for me to be able to discuss that)
* there seems to be a general interest in the ICTs, and several respondents indicated that their organization may use the newer, more innovative ones in the future
* at least two of the surveyed organizations are familiar with and are using wikis

That's it for the preeliminary analysis. Once again, I'd like to thank all who have taken (and will take...) their time to fill the survey. If you have not done so, I hope that the analysis above does show how valuable even one answer can be.

I will make a new update when the survey closes with more than 20 respondents, or as soon as that number is reached (and I will make further updates for each 10 more respondents). In theory, past studies suggest I should eventually get about 30 responses, since online survey response rate is about 30%. I will let you know if this holds true in my case :)

PS. The full dataset, minus any potentially confidential information (like emails and such) will be make available online once the survey is completed. Science is for the people...

Jul 20, 2009


Long overdue, but it's time to bring this blog up to modern standards. Replacing 2004 template with 2009...

Jul 16, 2009

Where Wikipedia doesn't work

I have to wonder why Wikipedia community has so much trouble researching itself. Sure, we love to talk about ourselves - we have blogs, newspapers (Signpost), podcasts... but when it comes to serious research, the initatives fail one after another.

Wikidemia, Wikipediology, Wikimedia Research Network - all dead. Even the Wikipedia in academic studies is doing poorly if I am not there to update it - you'd think that increasingly more numerous scholars studying Wikipedia would at the very least bother to advertise their work - apparently not :(

It took us years to get a side wide survey in 2008 - and even it had to be done by outside scholars, with all the transparency and communication problems that implies (there were some rumors about making data set publicly available, but if there has been any confirmation, I am unable to find it). The community survey project, the General User Survey, was never consulted, and there are no signs that we will have a 2009 (or 2010) survey.

There are signs of hope. The usability project looks promising. The Foundation has recently hired a Research Analyst. Yet...

My general impression of this is CHAOS. Things are being done on many foras. There is the usability project, there is the Wiki-research-l listerv, there is Wikidemia, there is the Wikimedia Research Network, things are annouced in Foundation blog or via press releases, there are initatives of individual non-English chapters (for example, non-English surveys of users...).

Some time ago I tried categorizing research pages on Wikipedia and on meta, but it's a loosing fight, particularly since there is no central place to announce them (research is being done and discussed everywhere possible, from Wikipedia subuserpages to people's own blogs). There is little to communication between existing foras, which have different members are differ in openness and focus, old foras are being abandoned due to little activity, new ones are founded by people who don't know about the old ones, research efforts are likely duplicated in various places, and the cycle goes on... it's a chaos, and pretty messy one at that :(

I hope that the new Research Analyst (whoever s/he is) will start by bringing an order to this, and creating some central forum for all of those initiatives, preferably based on a wiki somewhere.

PS. If you know of Wikipedia research initiatives / foras I missed, do let me know. I wonder how big is the iceberg that I a tip of I am ranting about :)

Jul 5, 2009

Wikipedia: increasingly more reliable

Wikipedia:WikiProject Academic Journals has compiled some interesting statistics related to citation of academic journals in Wikipedia. Wikipedia may still have much unreliable info, but it has made lots of progress in the past few years, as current tens of thousands of reliable citations prove.

And of course, instead of resting on laurels, Wikipedia is now taking this opportunity to increase its coverage of the very subject of academic journals...
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