New Editor Introduction


  • Maria Bakardjieva

It is both a great privilege and a great responsibility to be taking on the editorship of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication at a time when computer-mediated communication has officially taken over the world. What started as an odd experiment confined within laboratory walls has permeated every sphere and every corner of society. I hardly need to remind this audience that since its inception in 1995, JCMC has established itself as one of the key scholarly venues where the proliferation of these new communication modes has been actively and authoritatively discussed. The focus on topical and innovative empirical research that the journal has maintained over the years has contributed to its being an important, often first, point of reference for those interested in the processes and effects of emergent communication technologies, institutions, and cultural forms and in their broader personal, organizational, and cultural implications.

My vision for the future of the journal rests on the idea of preserving and advancing its proven strength in attracting cutting-edge empirical studies of nascent communication phenomena. I have in mind the kind of studies that go far beyond measuring, registering and describing. My brief experience as the Editor-in-Chief so far has been sufficient to convince me that at this stage in its career the JCMC is a magnet for scholarly work that features incisive analyses powerfully blending empirical observation and truly original methodological designs with theory and critical reflection. We have a luminous series of former editors to thank for guiding the journal to this exciting place. But instead of basking in this inherited glory (tempting as that may be), the journal should make efforts to further increase the thematic, theoretical, and methodological diversity of the research it publishes. Such an orientation would involve welcoming of publications from a variety of schools of thought: quantitative and qualitative, objectivist, interpretivist, and critical. The journal should become a forum where these often parallel conversations come together and engage with each other. Such a coalescence of perspectives would provide a fuller and richer reflection on the place of technologically mediated communication in society. It would be able to draw connections between different levels of analysis and would give proper recognition to communication as a formative process lying at the heart of numerous, often fundamental, social and cultural transformations. Boosting the international character of the journal's content is another editorial goal that I plan to pursue in hopes to foster a meeting place of various cultural modes of thought, knowledge, and experience.

With these ambitions in mind, I would like to thank Kevin Wright, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, for having seen the articles that comprise the current issue through the selection process. They form a diverse set of studies that nicely illustrates the power of multiple perspectives and research approaches. For starters, Antheunis and Schouten present us with an elaborate study that casts light onto the mechanics of personal impression formation among adolescent users of a Dutch social networking site. Contrary to popular belief that users of these sites can effectively manage their self-representations, and hence the ways others perceive them, Antheunis and Schouten show how ‘other-generated cues,’ or the comments and pictures associated with the profile owner's friends, play a decisive role in shaping the impressions of those viewing the profile. Thus, for example, the pictures of attractive friends, make viewers perceive the profile owner as more physically attractive while positive comments on her wall increase her social attractiveness. Through a series of creatively devised experimental and statistical procedures, the authors reveal important sides of the dynamics of personal attraction on social networking sites while testing and expanding existing social interaction theories into this relatively new online domain.

Humphreys and Liao's study of mobile geo-tagging comes to demonstrate that novel applications of computers for social communication incessantly spring up and present us with unexpected possibilities for self-expression and socializing. Employing in-depth interviews and participant observation, the authors delve into the experiences of early users of a geo-tagging service. Thus, they are able to produce a richly nuanced account of the ways in which people engage with the technology in order to carve their own meaningful paths through urban space and to share them with others. In the next article, Otterbacher leads us into the busy world of online communities where consumers post reviews for products and services, one of the highly productive mills for user-generated content. She undertakes structural and rhetorical analysis to explain the varying prominence different reviews acquire in these communities. Her findings can serve as a useful guide to both lay and professional authors of online content in and beyond the review genre as well as help understand the rhetorical makings of popular and potentially influential messages in the context of Web 2.0.

The issue closes with another contribution on the hot topic of social networking sites. Combining qualitative methods with a large-scale electronic survey, Farrow and Yuan have conducted a multifaceted study of the attitudes and actual behavior involved in alumni's charitable giving to their alma mater and the role participation in Facebook groups can play in that enterprise. In the heat of social interaction and under the gaze of their peers in such groups, members appear to be more inclined to put their money where their mouths are, or in other words to actually volunteer or donate to their university.

Apart from throwing into sharp relief important aspects of diverse communication phenomena, the articles in this issue employ a wide range of theoretical frameworks: from theories modeling psychological and social-psychological processes to Henry Lefebvre's philosophical analysis of the social production of space. I see this richness of theoretical viewpoints, effectively mobilized to help understand our changing communication environment, as a sure sign that, in the coming years, scholars from an ever greater variety of intellectual traditions will come to see the JCMC as a natural home for their strongest work.

Maria Bakardjieva