access to resources and information they need, or empowering children to critically navigate through their social spaces online.
Future research on the social Web should involve designing for
positive social outcomes. It is possible, though not always easy, to
understand what people are doing online; it is more difficult to impact
or alter their behavior. This challenge is grounded in decades of
research about how people learn, social psychology and group behavior, and behavioral economics.
The first question I would ask in designing an online intervention
is, would anyone really use this? The question is complex. In an age of
Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook, popular Web sites seem to have
arisen through a triumvirate of good timing, luck, and providing a
service that people want even though they didn’t know they wanted it.
More problematically, participation on these sites can be intensely
imbalanced [ 6, 7]. Participation is privileged.
Technology is not neutral, and neither are teen-family relations.
Differences in family members’ schedules, power relations, and technical skills, and balancing awareness with privacy and trust are all factors that need to be considered in study design [ 13]. We don’t assume
that teens and parents necessarily want to connect online. We know a
lot about spaces where teens don’t want parents around, but we don’t
know about spaces where they do.
While parent and teen relations online are central to my work, my research is guided by a broader agenda of how to help people access resources and information on the social Web. This is important for diversity and equality [ 6, 7], especially with growing groups of home
Internet users like baby boomers, seniors, and rural users [ 8]. Stanley
Milgram’s oft-cited small world study suggested that people are separated
by just six degrees; however, subsequent studies showed that degrees of
separation were deeply divided by social barriers of race and class [ 9].
We have rich information about who is coming online and how,
particularly in developed countries. In the U.S. in 2009, a majority of
adults have broadband internet access at home, and highest growth
rates are among senior citizens, baby boomers, rural Americans, and
low-income Americans [ 8]. Research on the social Web should not
hinge upon the whims of the Web. We should be able to design for
Sarita Yardi is a PhD candidate in the College of Computing at The
Georgia Institute of Technology, studying how teens in the Atlanta
area use technology in their lives. Her area of specialization is in social
computing, focused on social networks and the science of networks.
The author thanks her PhD adviser Amy Bruckman, her mentor at
MSR, Danah Boyd, ELC labmates, and Scott Golder. The author’s research at Georgia Tech is supported by NSF BPC #0634629.
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