With colleagues and students, I conduct research to understand what leads people to become committed and contribute to online communities and how to design these communities to be more successful. I also work with Niki Kittur to understand coordination in online communities, with John Levine to understand how newcomers to these communities become socialized and with Laura Dabbish and Tom Postmes to design for commitment. The results of much of this research are summarized in a book, Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design, which is available from MIT Press. A pre-publication version is available here.
Eveyday use of the Internet
In the HomeNet Project, Sara Kiesler and I have been investigating the way people use the Internet in their daily lives and the effects it is having on them and on their social relationships. Starting in 1995, we have carefully documented how individuals and families use electronic communication and information services, how they are integrating them into their lives and the impact these services are having on their social integration and psychological well-being.
More recently, Jonathon Cummings, Irina Shklovski and I been been investigating how people who are changing residence use the Internet to build and maintain social ties. Moira Burke and I have examined how various uses of Facebook influence users' social capital, health and psychological well-being.
Technology and conversation
Work in the same location improves collaboration, in part by improving the efficiency of conversation. I've been studying how pairs coordinate their conversation since 1979. Recently Susan Fussell, Susan Brennan, Darren Gergle and I have adopted a decompositional approach to identify the features of the face-to-face environment that support effective conversation. The primary goals of our research are to understand how a shared visual space influences collaboration, to discover how the usefulness of visual information interacts with tasks, and to identify ways to build communication systems for remote collaborative work.
As Herb Simon said, in the computer age, "information isn't the scarce resource: human time and attention [are]." Economic markets are the social institution for fairly allocating scarce resources. The goal of this research is to formalize the intuition that markets for attention can efficiently match the interests of information senders and recipients, and to test the value of these markets empirically. This work is being done with Jim Morris, Shyam Sunder, and Rahul Telang. A second stream of this research recognizes that groups need spontaneous, informal communication to effectively collaborate, but that interruptions associated with informal communication disrupt productivity. Laura Dabbish and I are investigating displays that could help groups time their interruptions to be less disruptive.
Coordination in groups
Groups are inherently different from individuals performing the same task because of a need to coordinate. Susan Fussel, Javier Lerch, Alberto Espinosa and I have been looking at coordination in groups in both laboratory and field settings and in groups as diverse as research collaborations, managerial teams, military crews at NORAD, pick up groups in World of Warcraft and software development teams. One method teams use to coordinate their work is to develop shared mental models of each other, the tasks they need to perform, their goals, and their environment. These models allow teams to coordinate with less explicit communication.