Studying Online Social Networks

Authors

  • Laura Garton,

    Corresponding author
    1. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation is based on a whole network study of computer-mediated communication within an organizational context. Applying a social network perspective, she examines how the introduction of a multimedia space technology creates new opportunities and at the same time new constraints on the relations and interaction patterns among geographically separated work groups.
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  • Caroline Haythornthwaite,

    Corresponding author
    1. Caroline Haythornthwaite is Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching centers on information, information systems, and organizations. Her current work uses social network analysis to examine the way in which computer-mediated communication supports information exchange.
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  • Barry Wellman

    Corresponding author
    1. Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto, founded the International Network for Social Network Analysis in 1976, headed it until 1988, and continues to serve as its International Coordinator. His research, based at the center for Urban and Community Studies, has studied communities and workgroups as social networks, both on- and off-line. Among his recent publications are Social Structures: A Network Approach (coedited with S.D. Berkowitz, 1997, JAI Press), “Net Surfers Don't Ride Alone” (with Milena Gulia), “An Electronic Group is Virtually a Social Network,” and “Computer Networks as Social Networks” (with Garton, Haythornthwaite, Gulia, Janet Salaff and Dimitrina Dimitrova).
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Laura Garton, Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, 455 Spadina Avenue, 4th Floor, Toronto Canada M5S 1A1.

Prof. Caroline Haythornthwaite, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 501 East Daniel Street, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61820.

Prof. Barry Wellman, Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, 455 Spadina Avenue, 4th Floor, Toronto, Canada M5S 1A1.

Abstract

When a computer network connects people or organizations, it is a social network. Yet the study of such computer-supported social networks has not received as much attention as studies of human-computer interaction, online person-to-person interaction, and computer-supported communication within small groups. We argue the usefulness of a social network approach for the study of computer-mediated communication. We review some basic concepts of social network analysis, describe how to collect and analyze social network data, and demonstrate where social network data can be, and have been, used to study computer-mediated communication. Throughout, we show the utility of the social network approach for studying computer-mediated communication, be it in computer-supported cooperative work, in virtual community, or in more diffuse interactions over less bounded systems such as the Internet.

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