Work that Network

One of the things about being an Internet researcher is how easy it is to find other Internet researchers — they’re all on the Internet. It would, of course, be rather odd for an Internet researcher not to be easily contacted online. After all, if someone is doing Internet research, then they must be very interested in it and are probably sophisticated users. You know, reading blogs, chatting on IRC, wasting time on Youtube, that kind of thing. Plenty of people still don’t know what a blog is, after all (my supervisor didn’t). Therefore, Internet researchers are probably heavy users of the Internet, and being heavy users, they’ve seen firsthand the incredible convenience being online and connected can bring. As well, they’ve probably bought into the prevailing online ideology that connectedness is a virtue in itself.

In my case, I’ve gotten a lot of information just from googling the names of prominent researchers, even ones that don’t do Internet stuff. They’re all connected to universities, so they usually have a faculty or departmental page where you can get copies of some of their articles (or even books if you’re lucky). Many even have their own websites and blogs. It’s in the interests of academics to have their work read by others, so this kind of open sharing is unsurprising. What’s particularly interesting, though, is when I move from reading other people’s work to communicating with the authors themselves. I’ve had fruitful discussions with Internet researchers, not just with professors but also with other grad students doing research on similar topics. The different ways I’ve found other Internet researchers is interesting: through email, through blogs, and through mailing lists. I’ve only met one of them in person, and I didn’t actually meet her per se, since I attended a presentation she was giving without knowing that I already “knew” her, and only found out afterwards who she was, when it was already too late to do anything. Two ships passing in the night.

What happened was that I attended a conference and went to a certain presentation that was supposed to be about community online. I went, found out that there had been a mixup in the program, but I stayed anyway. Later on, I discovered who the presenter had been. Life went on, I found that person’s blog and said we’d been two feet away from each other without realizing it. Then she said, “Aren’t you So-and-so’s student? When I told him that I was doing Internet research, he said that he had a student working on Filipino bloggers and said he’d put me in touch with you. But now it’s redundant, since you’ve found me anyway”.

It’s fascinating to discover firsthand how small the world is. Still, it wasn’t such a big coincidence, since academia is structured in a way that facilitates linkages across continents. Think of how many people an average professor is connected to, how many students they’ve taught, how many professors they’ve studied under, and how many classmates they’ve had. Quite a lot, so if two randomly selected academics should discover that they’re connected in some way, it’s not really a surprise. Besides, my story took place at a conference, which are designed to create connections between the people who attend.

Why do I care about networks? Because nowadays, people’s social networks extend online, in ways similar to what I’ve discussed about myself. And this is one of the things I’m studying in my research: networks, not just social networks, but networks of blogs and networks of bloggers. While I was contacting other Internet researchers I was also building a network of Internet researchers for myself. That, or I was linking into an already existing network. When you study networks, you’re never entirely sure that you’re not constructing what you’re studying.

It’s also in the nature of networks to constantly be expanding. People make connections, and those people go on to make other connections, and so on. So it’s kind of hard to study something that’s always changing. But more on that in a later post.

Networks, people. Not just computer networks, but networks in general. That’s what I’m studying. And I hope now you understand why.

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