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I will be studying MetaFilter this semester for an e-communities class project January 31, 2005 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I am a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information studying human-computer interaction. I am posting this thread to let you know that I will be studying MetaFilter this semester for an e-communities class project. My term paper will describe MetaFilter’s purpose, the technologies used, roles, identifiers and identities, intergroup relations, norms of behavior, and governance mechanisms. For more information about the course, see http://www.si.umich.edu/~presnick/courses/winter03/684/

I will make my findings available at http://www.noor.bz/ecommunities. Feedback would be welcome any time. I have also included information there about how your privacy will be protected.

If you have any concerns about how I am conducting this study, you may contact me by email at nooraz at umich dot edu.

Thank you!
posted by nalihasan to MetaFilter-Related at 2:48 PM (123 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Good luck! I think you'll find we have the finest collection of abusive personalities ever assembled in one place on the internets.
posted by spock at 2:57 PM on January 31, 2005


In turn, I will be studying your use of your findings for my thesis on psychology.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:01 PM on January 31, 2005


And I will be studying Pretty_Generic's thesis to see if there's money to be made from it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:02 PM on January 31, 2005


I'm not sure I like this so much.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:03 PM on January 31, 2005


Hey, and I sometimes tell other people about metafilter as well.
Should I post that on the front page of MetaTalk.

I was discussing MetaFilter with somebody you don't care about the other day.
These are my findings

posted by seanyboy at 3:06 PM on January 31, 2005


WARNING: THE GAL IN THE WHITE COAT IN THE CORNER IS TAKING NOTES.

Ripping apart her thesis will be fun, though.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:18 PM on January 31, 2005


Got yer IRB approval?
posted by mds35 at 3:23 PM on January 31, 2005 [1 favorite]


And the prize for the thesis with the highest freuquency of the word 'anus' goes to...

Seriously? Looking at your plan...

My term paper will describe MetaFilter ’s purpose, the technologies used, roles, identifiers and identities, intergroup relations, norms of behavior, and governance mechanisms.

...I think your scope is ambitious. Covering the intergroup relations (factionalism) and governance mechanisms alone would be a major task. I suppose it depends on the depth and range of data.

What dates are you covering, or are you going to trawl the archives looking for examples? I fear you'll be able to find data to support any thesis if you go back over the last 4 and a bit years.
posted by cosmonik at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2005


Cut to the chase: what do I have to do to get my freakin' banana pellet? I'm tired of the genital shocks.
posted by stonerose at 3:48 PM on January 31, 2005


I just wanted everyone to know I'll be covering the coverage of MetaFilter very intenty, while adding my own droll insights here and there. If my efforts fail in landing me a book contract and/or a guest interview on Charlie Rose, CSPAN's Open Phones, or NPR's All Things Considered, I can at least hope for 90 Second Pop on CNN or I Love the 21st Century on VH-1.

Oh, yeah: regardless of whatever successes come my way, I'll be sure to think of you, the little people.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:52 PM on January 31, 2005


*changes username to a gorgeous swedish guy*
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2005


I'll be filming a "Real World"-type documentary about Smart Dalek's efforts to cover the coverage of MetaFilter. Hal Sparks narrates, and there will be special surprise guest appearances by Flava Flav and Brian Bosworth.

Tune in next week as a caffeine-addled Smart Dalek punches out our cameraman in a Mountain Dew frenzy!
posted by Aquaman at 4:10 PM on January 31, 2005


I challenge you to see how many times you can use the word "Belgium" in your term paper.
posted by spock at 4:15 PM on January 31, 2005


Not to be a party-pooper or anything, but, from reading your class IRB page, and your page, doesn't it seem a little questionable to put direct quotes in your thesis/paper/whatever when that information ends up functioning to personally identify the poster, with the help of the search function?

I mean, it's a public community and all, and I don't really have a problem with my own comments showing up in a thesis, should that ever happen, but I do wonder about others. What about that little: "All posts are © their original authors." thing at the bottom there? Just asking out of curiosity.
posted by odinsdream at 4:17 PM on January 31, 2005


All this MetaCoverage needs to be MetaFiltered out.
posted by Gyan at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2005


My term paper will describe MetaFilter’s purpose..

Do be a good sort and let us know as soon as you find out. We'd be ever so grateful.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2005


Well you better get a move on. Quartermass is already writing a thesis on metafilter and he seems to have a bit of a jump on you. Maybe you guys can do a panel at an upcoming conference...
posted by googly at 5:18 PM on January 31, 2005


Way to steal my thunder!

I am kidding. Good luck with this, and as I am sure you will find, Metafilter is an extremely complex place, and that the "roles, identifiers and identities, intergroup relations, norms of behavior, and governance mechanisms" are not always apparent at first glance. In fact, having been a member of this place for the last four years who has been studying this place for my own thesis, I am still not sure I 'get' everything. (or anything!)
posted by Quartermass at 5:30 PM on January 31, 2005


" My term paper will describe MetaFilter’s purpose..."

This website exists to break down the barriers between people, to extend a weblog beyond just one person, and to foster discussion among its members.

Oops. There went a few pages.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2005


mumbles to herself, shoulda taken the name algernon ...

I realize this is a public space but I really don't like the idea of being studied like a lab rat. When I registered, I came here for links and discussion - not to be studied and analyzed for a class project.

There is something about this that isn't sitting right with me and I can't quite put my finger on it as yet. Count me out of your "study".
posted by squeak at 5:39 PM on January 31, 2005


You can mention my name in your thesis as long as it's preceded by "beloved character"...
posted by wendell at 5:47 PM on January 31, 2005


squeak - no doubt you just guaranteed yourself being quoted under the chapter heading 'Community Reactions to this Study'.
posted by cosmonik at 6:00 PM on January 31, 2005


I'm compiling a list of 100 words that people don't think I can use in my dissertation.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:08 PM on January 31, 2005


squeak, I really appreciated you sticking up for my project in the other thread, but was wondering what changed your mind here?

Is it the way that nalihasan presented his/her project? Or is it because she/he isn't an established user? Or something different?
posted by Quartermass at 6:09 PM on January 31, 2005


I didn’t realize we could make requests. You can mention my name in your thesis as long as it's preceded by "swashbuckling"...
posted by arse_hat at 6:10 PM on January 31, 2005


*puts on rubber underpants, hoards banana pellets*
posted by contessa at 6:11 PM on January 31, 2005


This is a public forum. You're speaking in public.

Just in case anyone forgot.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:18 PM on January 31, 2005


TimeFactor - speak for yourself.
posted by grateful at 6:28 PM on January 31, 2005


human-computer interaction ......... peking of witch, I just noticed my mouse clicker finger has been deformed from too much mousing.
posted by JohnR at 6:35 PM on January 31, 2005


I'd like my name to always be preceeded by "the trepanating" or "the deeply philosophical."

Actually, I like the idea of dissertating on Metafilter. All the little judgements people make; what is and isn't appropriate; what is outlined in the guidelines and how that is interpreted by the community. Should be weird. From now on I will comport myself as though I was being studied though. Just so you know. Because OBSERVING something . . . well, you know.
posted by punkbitch at 6:36 PM on January 31, 2005


Hooray! As a bit of a gratuitious self link, here is a copy of my master's thesis on a similar topic. (BBSes in my case) [.pdf] I won't be so arrogant as to assume the thesis itself will be of much use, but I would suggest giving the bibliography a look through. I spent a good bit of time researching this, and I think I put together a pretty good bit of useful secondary material. (Though, naturally, if you want to talk about it with someone, it's a subject I'm quite talky about).

punkbitch: I always said if I ever went for my PhD, I'd write a dissertation seeing how well my theory applied. If that's all it where, I might actually do it.
posted by absalom at 6:45 PM on January 31, 2005


MetaFilter has a purpose?
posted by mwhybark at 6:53 PM on January 31, 2005


This is a public forum. You're speaking in public.

Just in case anyone forgot.


Just for the sake of argument, are people allowed to quote entire copyrighted works in educational papers without permission?

Assuming that each member has a copyright on each comment (as the bottom of each page seems to suggest), and assuming it was quoted in a paper (as nalihasan seems to intend), wouldn't that be... not allowed? Just because I display a copyrighted work in public doesn't give everyone the right to copy it. (again, just for the sake of argument, genuinely curious here)
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 PM on January 31, 2005


odinsdream, I think the doctrine of fair use would apply in this case. The writer is only taking enough to make his or her point.
posted by arse_hat at 7:02 PM on January 31, 2005


I hereby revoke my copyright for any posts or comments whose use would thereby make me rich or famous.
posted by walrus at 7:04 PM on January 31, 2005


nalihasan, don't stare too deep into the abyss...
posted by cosmonik at 7:06 PM on January 31, 2005


Punkbitch has a good point. Why announce the study? It seems that by announcing it, you'd affect what you're observing, however minutely.

(smoothes hair, sucks in gut)
posted by horsewithnoname at 7:08 PM on January 31, 2005


Just for the sake of argument, are people allowed to quote entire copyrighted works in educational papers without permission?


I am fairly certain that as long as said quotes are cited properly, and as long as said quotes were not being used to make $$$, it is well within the bounds of copyright.
posted by Quartermass at 7:10 PM on January 31, 2005


Cosmonik, perhaps and that is something I can't control. If I say nothing then I've given permission to use anything I may say, which is something I don't want to do. Which leads me to believe that if information that is used in the study comes from a specific source, the source should be sought out and permission gained from them rather than relying on a post in the grey. Not everyone reads the grey or user profiles.

Quartermass a few things spring to mind.

1. The fact they've been a member for just over 2 weeks and don't have a history of participating in the community. So I question the reason they have a membership in the first place - to study MeFi for a course or to be a participant in an online community?

2. I found it a bit too coincidental this project was announced right after yours was, I see it as opportunistic and taking advantage of the goodwill extended to you and your project. I may be wrong but it was a thought that I had.

3. It could set a precedent for future studies and I'm not sure this is a good idea.
posted by squeak at 7:15 PM on January 31, 2005


horsewithnoname: maybe what nalihasan is announcing isn't really what is being studied. Like, maybe its all a double blind and the real study is on our reactions or non reactions. Dude! How meta is that! Alright.
posted by punkbitch at 7:22 PM on January 31, 2005


I'm sure the first paper ever written on Metafilter will be the most complete and exhaustive one in the history of, like, ever!

Send ten people to write papers on a random thing and I assure you that you'll get ten very different papers. I, for one, welcome blah blah overlords. The internet is a bizarre thing. How many of you people have friends and family who would be utterly confused by you describing your antics on this site or in an IRC channel? It's fascinating stuff.

Good luck with the research, you crazy academics.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 7:24 PM on January 31, 2005


This is like when the teacher brought some stranger into the room, didn't say who they were and left them at the back ... watching. I don' like.
posted by bonaldi at 7:24 PM on January 31, 2005


P.S. I doubt this paper being announced will in any way change how people act here. And if for some reason it does, there are a lot of archives.

P.P.S. For those who are mildly freaking out... note that anybody can watch us do shit here. Don't be so weirdly paranoid.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 7:26 PM on January 31, 2005


what's the big deal? we've been chapters in books, topics at conferences, and now we're papers. The epic miniseries can't be far behind, but Robert Downey Jr has to play me.
posted by amberglow at 7:34 PM on January 31, 2005


squeak: if I am being honest, I had a similar reaction. Even though it is hypocritical of me. I am doing the same thing as this individual, but it came out of a love for this community first and foremost. The "I love Metafilter" has been on my user page since I joined - and it is true. I think this place is great, and as I said in the other thread, that is the reason why I chose it as a research site.

But then I see this, and I honestly could not help but feel a bit territorial. I have been thinking about this all evening, and I think it comes down to this:

Even though Metafilter is "public," and open for anyone to come in and steal or research or print it out page for page and wallpaper their house with it - it still kind of feels private in a weird sort of way. Like - this is our "club," and you are welcome to join in if you have something to bring to the table, play nice, or vote democrat (ha!).

This kind of feels like we are being "used" or something. How can anyone figure us out in a few short months?

Then again, this could be an established user using a pseudonym, and all above points are moot.
posted by Quartermass at 7:37 PM on January 31, 2005


And then again, I could be full of shit. Which is probably closer to the truth.
posted by Quartermass at 7:38 PM on January 31, 2005


Seeing as how this is both a public forum and a community, perhaps it would have been polite to ask permission to do this rather than announcing, nalihasan. I suspect the response would have been overwhelmingly positive.
posted by clockzero at 7:38 PM on January 31, 2005


No offence, but I can't think of anything much more boring than reading MeFi archives for research. It's fun hanging around and commenting and posting and asking questions and stuff, but for me it's in the moment. If you had to look back on it, thread by thread, I imagine it could get burdensome pretty quickly. There's 40,000 threads in MeFi, 9,000 callouts and bugs in MeTa, and 15,000 questions in AskMe. You'd have to wade through so much just to get a reasonable sample, it would probably put you off for life.
posted by carter at 7:43 PM on January 31, 2005


I would also suggest that nalihasan would have to refresh every thread at least once a minute to catch all the comments from people with negative or dissenting viewpoints before they're deleted.
posted by cosmonik at 7:43 PM on January 31, 2005


It's a public space. Anyone can write anything they want about it. Many have. If you don't want people to take pictures, videotape it or write about it don't do it in public.

Also, as to copywrite, fair use allows people to use your material even for profit (books, news shows, movies and reports or papers) as long as it is used only to support thier own original work and does not comprise the bulk of their work.

(I'm afraid of the movie. I don't want to be played by Ed Asner.)
posted by arse_hat at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2005


Yeah, Kleptophoria's right...we've all been playing in a glass cage for years, so it's kind of weird to get all "Don't look at me!" all of a sudden. If you post here on any regular basis, there are already a lot of people out there who have an opinion about you (or, at least, about your MeFi persona).

Plus, there's already been at least one study written where MetaFilter was a part of it. (I can't find the MeTa thread about it off-hand, but it was about a year or so ago, I think--a guy wrote an overview of MeFi, K5, and a few other online communities.) I'd be _really_ surprised if there weren't a couple dozen other papers scattered about that never got called out for attention here.

Which does make this specific MeTa announcement kind of strange. It definitely seems either very earnest/naive, or meta/underhanded like punkbitch suggested.

As an aside, though, if you are sincere about this, I presume that you're _not_ expecting to participate under the same nick name, right? That would definitely be an exercise in futility. (New topic..."How I got stonewalled by an online community")
posted by LairBob at 7:46 PM on January 31, 2005


I'd like to be played by a plexiglass cube with blue LEDS and shower fittings sticking out of it.
posted by carter at 7:46 PM on January 31, 2005


mental note *remember to spell check*
posted by arse_hat at 7:46 PM on January 31, 2005


There are about 30 results for metafilter on Google Scholar, so it's not like there's no precedent for this. I personally look forward to seeing your results.

Also, what arse_hat said about public spaces.
posted by mkdg at 7:47 PM on January 31, 2005


I don't see any reason to assume the worst here. As for changing what you're observing, it's hardly a large enough change to matter. I can't believe that in a few days we'll have all forgotten about this enough that things will go on as normal.

Hell, if people on reality TV can get used to cameras in their bathrooms. . .
posted by absalom at 7:54 PM on January 31, 2005




I hereby reserve* my copyright on any posts or comments I have made, may make, or might conceive of making, containing the letter "R".

* not "revoke", Walrus. Jeez.
posted by yhbc at 8:24 PM on January 31, 2005


Walrus can revoke his rights to make money if he wants to. Don't pick on him.
posted by arse_hat at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2005


Ok, spock, it may be true that the announcement that we're being watched will affect our behaviour. However, it may also be true that this announcement (especially assurances about anonymity and notice re: the eventual availability of the work) is necessary from a research ethics p.o.v.

It's true that the modern standard for ethics in research involving actual, living people can compromise the results, but so be it.
posted by onshi at 8:36 PM on January 31, 2005


it may also be true that this announcement (especially assurances about anonymity and notice re: the eventual availability of the work) is necessary from a research ethics p.o.v.

That's a good point, actually. Anyone know for sure?
posted by LairBob at 8:39 PM on January 31, 2005


Of course the REAL subject of the study may be to see how we would react to being told that we are being studied. In, that case everything you have said in this thread will be the real subject matter. The meta-ing of meta so to speak.
posted by arse_hat at 8:42 PM on January 31, 2005


it may also be true that this announcement (especially assurances about anonymity and notice re: the eventual availability of the work) is necessary from a research ethics p.o.v.

That's a good point, actually. Anyone know for sure?


If it's true then this is a bad way to do it, for several reasons.

- not everyone will read this thread
- there's no option in it for members to state that they do *not* want to be observed
- there's nowhere for members to 'sign' and give their permission to be observed

Usually these things are 'opt-in' with consent, and if it doesn't have that feature, then it's not really worth anything, from an ethics point of view.
posted by carter at 8:49 PM on January 31, 2005


Then again, it may be a long established user yanking the collective chain to see how many paranoids fall out.
posted by arse_hat at 8:53 PM on January 31, 2005


Are there any special pills to take?

And did you try them on the monkeys first?
posted by coelecanth at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2005


I can tell you from my ordeal with my University's IRB, it isn't really that clear. For the research I did with archives, I was told it wasn't necessary to get consent, or to let anyone know what I was doing. However, whenever I make contact with real people to answer questions, I need to get consent.

So, as per the other thread, when I make my posts asking my research questions, I have to do so with a link to something like what nalihasan has, so that people are informed, and their participation "implies" consent.

But you are right, a thread like this in an area of Metafilter that not everyone reads might not cut it, but if all he is doing is dealing with archives, I don't think it really matters.
posted by Quartermass at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2005


An informed consent form (ICF) has to have a certain number of features on it in order to qualify as an ICF. These features vary from Uni to Uni but generally:

- the form has to be *approved* by the IRB (or whatever) before it is given to any member of the public (nalihasan's thread represents himself as doing university research with UMich - does UMich know he's representing himself this way?)
- the form has to have place to be initialled/signed to indicate that the subject has read and understood it
- there has to be a place where the subject signs to give consent
- there has to be a place where the subject is informed of his/her right to opt out
- there has to be a name/address/tel etc. for someone at the Uni concerned, who can receive complaints/questions about the researcher.

The reason it's so complex is that any properly drafted ICF has been cleared by the Uni's lawyers as being strong enough to cover the Uni's own ass in case they're sued. So if you are going to apply for research permission, leave *plenty* of time (weeks/months). You'll need to find out about the policies, draft lots of documents, submit them and wait for them to be reviewed, and maybe have to revise and re-submit.

Whether or not this is practical for all researchers is a different question. Depends on the research, the researcher, resources, etc. People do do research wthout these things. Also whether or not you tell the Uni you're doing such research is up to you. However, advertising that you are doing research, with your name and addy, on a public web site, when in fact you do not have the official ICF, is probably not advisable.

Anyway, bottom line: unless you have an *official* ICF, in the eyes of the Uni, legally, you have nothing.
posted by carter at 9:24 PM on January 31, 2005


there has to be a place where the subject signs to give consent


With online research though, this has become sort of a grey area. How does one "sign" consent in this kind of setting?

I think I was lucky to get the IRB I had. They approved my study in less than a month, and seemed to "get" what I am doing.
posted by Quartermass at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2005


carter, why does a person need informed consent to study things that happen in a public space? I mean other than because you're advisor wants one?

Years ago I directed commercials for a local TV station. We sometimes had people call and say they were going to sue because they could be seen in the background of a commercial shot on a beach or in a park or at city hall. We had nothing to answer for. They were seen in a public space and we did not libel them in any way. Again, if you don't want your mom to know, don't do it in public.
posted by arse_hat at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2005


Oh dear god you're???????
posted by arse_hat at 9:34 PM on January 31, 2005


nali, and Quarter: what do you hope to learn from doing these papers? (i'm geniunely curious)
posted by amberglow at 9:35 PM on January 31, 2005


why does a person need informed consent to study things that happen in a public space?

Short answer: Because it can be argued that a description of a person in that space, published as research, if it can tied to that person, could cause that person distress. Example: 'A' is in MeFi - a published description of 'A' appears linked to a thread on drug-use - someone reading the article plays junior detective and trawls the archives and figures out who 'A' is - they publish this somewhere esle - 'A' goes for a job - the job screeners make a link between 'A' and drugs. Or - 'B' is described as going off in threads all the time about his crappy job -employer figures out who 'B' is. These are a little far-fetched, but research consent is supposed to cover all possibilities, not just probabilities.

Re. public space and shooting ads. I think MeFi is a little different. You can't click on a person in the background of a shot in an ad and get their profile.
posted by carter at 9:50 PM on January 31, 2005


why does a person need informed consent to study things that happen in a public space?

I'm sorry, I left that a bit ambiguous. I don't think you need consent for genuinely public space. And it would not be practical. Most times, however, researchers are studying members of one or another community, who happen to be passing through public space. And I don't think that's the same thing.
posted by carter at 10:01 PM on January 31, 2005


what do you hope to learn from doing these papers?

As stated in the other thread, the main goal of mine is simply working with Bourdieu's theory (my favorite Sociologist, someone who I have read extensively, and who I even linked in my first post) and testing it in a "new" social space.

You could argue that it is "research for research's sake," and I wouldn't disagree with you, but with all the time I spend on Metafilter, and how interesting I think it is Sociologically (the higher-than-average level of discourse, the "self policing" aspect etc etc etc), just opening up a dialogue about who we are and what makes us tick is enough for me.

I mean, if you were given an opportunity to do nothing but read Metafilter all day, what would you want to know?
posted by Quartermass at 10:08 PM on January 31, 2005


"Re. public space and shooting ads. I think MeFi is a little different. You can't click on a person in the background of a shot in an ad and get their profile."

First of all the profile here only offers what the user wants to profile. Again, don't want it seen in public don't do it in public.

Also I could see a guy i've seen at the mall, in an ad, walking and kissing a women other than the woman I've seen him with in the mall. With a few questions to merchants in the mall I could find out he is married to the woman I saw him with in the mall and not to the one in the ad. (this actually happened). I did nothing with the info but you can see what could be done.

Again I do not see why anyone needs consent to study, watch, write about, film, video or otherwise record or discuss those things you do in a public forum.
posted by arse_hat at 10:09 PM on January 31, 2005


“You can't click on a person in the background of a shot in an ad and get their profile.”

But people can recognize them. I don't think your rationale for consent in this context is correct. You don't need consent to quote what someone's said in public. It doesn't matter if it would embarass them; they've already said it in public. The reason you need to get these sorts of consent forms has to do with past abusive experiments involving people who hadn't given consent. As said/implied above, I am guessing that the standard here is if the researcher is interacting with the subjects. Quartermass and nalihasen, for example, put themselves into a very different position when they interact with people on mefi. They might solicit information from someone that arguably wouldn't have appeared on mefi otherwise. It probably doesn't matter if that particular interaction appears in the final research—if they were here and participating as part of their research, then all their interactions are subject to the same scrutiny. That's what I'm guessing, I'm not an authority. But the point is that if we non-researchers say things to each other that are embarassing, it's fair game without consent. But if the researcher asks us something and we respond with that embarassing information, then even though the result here on mefi is the same, it's not the same for the researcher and regarding consent. That is, if the researcher's interactions on mefi are part of his/her research.

By the way, from discussions I've seen elsewhere, I believe at a site for commercial photographers, it is not cut-and-dried that you don't need consent for random people that appear in photos in public places. From what I gathered, it's a grey area.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:10 PM on January 31, 2005


Here's a Google Answer regarding consent of subjects appearing in photos in public places. For those interested. Probably not relevant (except philosophically) to this discussion. I think you always need the consent of minors, though.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:14 PM on January 31, 2005


EB. If you are not slandering them, libeling them, or suggesting that they endorse your product or cause you are on pretty solid ground. I mean if I use your lovely visage as the prime visual to endorse “*political party* against gay marriage” you could sue me. If, however, you are seen walking behind Joe Blow as HE endorses “*political party* against gay marriage” while walking his dog in the street you will have no case.
posted by arse_hat at 10:19 PM on January 31, 2005


Oh EB I am not suggesting you endorse or don't endorse gay marriage. Sorry.
posted by arse_hat at 10:21 PM on January 31, 2005


Oops. Apparently, the use of photos of minors is basically the same as with adults: if it's commercial, you need consent. Otherwise, not really if they're in a public space.

But everyone should be aware that you can pretty much bring a civil suit against anyone for any reason. You may have the right to do something, and a court may agree, and the complaint against you may be silly, but that doesn't mean someone can't make trouble for you with a lawsuit.

On preview: yeah, I get that. But that's for non-commercial purposes (including news reporting). For commercial purposes, you need consent.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:22 PM on January 31, 2005


nalihasan, I'm curious about how well acquainted you are with MeFi. To be honest, I can't really imagine anyone being able to to actually connect the dots unless they've been for years, and almost every day. The opportunities for misreading any bit of data is tremendous, and while any number of conclusions could be drawn about any given interaction (and easily supported by argument), edging close to something even remotely accurate or meaningful would be quite a trick. Without a really strong grasp of the history and day-to-day minutiae of this place, it will be like attempting to knit a doll's sweater with telephone poles.

Also, though I dislike being so negative, it seems to me that the overly ambitious scope of your project pretty much assures only the most facile of treatments. I'm not trying to inflate the esoteric aspect of the community, but obviously when you are dealing with a group this large that has been interacting for so many years, describing "roles, identifiers and identities, intergroup relations, norms of behavior, and governance mechanisms" is like saying, "and for my next paper, I will describe... Religion!"
posted by taz at 10:26 PM on January 31, 2005


"For commercial purposes, you need consent."

Actually here is one more wrinkle for you. Consent without an "exchange of value" is not a contract and often worthless in court. An "exchange of value" means if you sign a release for something and I don't give you something in return (a penny, a shoelace or a car) then my release means nothing in court.

I am no lawyer but I've worked in TV and supported myself in college as a photographer and managed never to get my sad ass sued. ;-)
posted by arse_hat at 10:29 PM on January 31, 2005


Again I do not see why anyone needs consent to study, watch, write about, film, video or otherwise record or discuss those things you do in a public forum.

But people can recognize them. I don't think your rationale for consent in this context is correct.

Yikes! I've somehow allowed myself to become a devil's advocate for the Research Boards (which is ironic, seeing how much of my time has been spent trying to get my own permissions).

I basically agree with you both, but as demarcating what is public/private is a very difficult line to draw (witness the discussion in this thread), and becomes blurrier online, then Research Boards are going to err on the side of caution. And there's been enough bad stinks from online research (famously Dibble and lamdaMOO) that I think online researchers also have to err on the side of caution. If anything, there's a whole raft of online research that shows that people often *do* treat online spaces as somehow 'private' (again, witness contributions to this thread), regardless of how accessible they really are.
posted by carter at 10:31 PM on January 31, 2005


carter - I think you have hit the crux of the issue, the confluence of the social, academic and legal worlds, vis-à-vis privacy .

One thing I decided in 1994 was to accept that the Internet (and that includes e-mail) is as public as the town square. Behave accordingly
posted by arse_hat at 10:41 PM on January 31, 2005


If anything, there's a whole raft of online research that shows that people often *do* treat online spaces as somehow 'private' (again, witness contributions to this thread), regardless of how accessible they really are.

Bingo.
posted by Quartermass at 10:50 PM on January 31, 2005


"people often *do* treat online spaces as somehow 'private' "

People have treated the back seat of police cars and jail cells and department store bathroom stalls as private but the courts have said that is not the case.

I would advise against thinking anything (again including e-mail) on the Internet is private. It is a recipe for sadness and pain.
posted by arse_hat at 10:56 PM on January 31, 2005


I would advise against thinking anything (again including e-mail) on the Internet is private.

I think you may be right, in the long run. For the moment though the technology is still very new, and people are not used to dealing with it, and they have the perennial concerns that appear with any new communication technology. For an historical comparison, see The Right to Privacy by Warren and Brandeis, published in the Harvard Law Review in 1890:
Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right "to be let alone." Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that "what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops."
posted by carter at 11:02 PM on January 31, 2005


carter - nice quote. Most of what I know of law comes from a lawyer friend who attended Cooley law school.
posted by arse_hat at 11:12 PM on January 31, 2005


By this logic, we should ask for permission before linking to just about anything. Yeah, it's publicly available, but the site owner wasn't necessarily planning to have all of us looking at it. And how could someone from here who probably just stumbled across the site in the last couple weeks possibly capture its brilliance and nuance with one short FPP? The impact of traffic from here on a small blog, after all, is way more than the impact of someone's research paper on this site.
posted by transona5 at 11:38 PM on January 31, 2005


I hope it doesn't result in a big diagram like the one showing which high school students fucked which other students.
posted by Wood at 11:41 PM on January 31, 2005


transona5, regarding your second point, I think there's a difference between saying "look at this interesting thing" and saying "here is an interesting thing: I will now describe what it what it means and how it works."
posted by taz at 11:58 PM on January 31, 2005


“I think there's a difference between saying ‘look at this interesting thing’ and saying ‘here is an interesting thing: I will now describe what it what it means and how it works.’”

Yeah, the former is a MeFi post and the latter are the subsequent comments.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:04 AM on February 1, 2005


Good luck to dorkyspice and Quartermass. I look forward to reading your findings.
posted by PY at 12:37 AM on February 1, 2005


"not "revoke", Walrus. Jeez."

Aha. This is why not to post while drubk. I hereby revoke my revocation. I think.
posted by walrus at 1:43 AM on February 1, 2005


Good luck to both of you scholar types. I second, third, and fourth above comments pointing out that this is a public space.
posted by Wolof at 2:32 AM on February 1, 2005


I hope it doesn't result in a big diagram like the one showing which high school students fucked which other students.

Aww, man. I totally hope it does. I thought that was cool. (Anecdotal, in the end, and not really proving anything beyond the behavior of that one group of students, but still.)
posted by LairBob at 2:41 AM on February 1, 2005


Quarter, i'd want to know if this would work in a wider or real-world setting, and i'd wonder about the older real-world precedents socially--dictatorships, communes, shared-bargaining like in union shops, teambuilding, etc...
posted by amberglow at 6:19 AM on February 1, 2005


"...if you were given an opportunity to do nothing but read Metafilter all day, what would you want to know?

I'd want to know where I could buy a bigger monitor and a comfy chair. This one sucks!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:37 AM on February 1, 2005


IANAL, but I am a Certified IRB Professional (I shit you not---it's a wild and glamorous designation!) and I can say with some authority that many IRB's would waive the requirement for documentation of informed consent for this type of research.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, which IRB's and the researchers subject to them are bound to follow:

(d) An IRB may approve a consent procedure which does not include, or which alters, some or all of the elements of informed consent set forth in this section, or waive the requirements to obtain informed consent provided the IRB finds and documents that:

(1) the research involves no more than minimal risk to the subjects;

(2) the waiver or alteration will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;

(3) the research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration; and

(4) whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.

source: 45CFR46.116(d)

It would seem that the present research fits these criteria. Furthermore, nalihasan has been kind enough to give us all a "heads up."

The only thing I would suggest is that nalihasn refrain form posting anywhere on MeFi during the period under study. Especially when it comes to minors, some IRBs may see a distinction between observing human subjects and interacting with them. It's one thing to atche children play in the sandbox. It's another to roll a bright red ball into the park to see what happens. If you are seen to manipulate the environment you are studying, not only might some feel your data to be tainted, you might have ethical issues as well. An IRB is less likely to waive IC for a study where minors are more than being observed.

More on IRB requirements regarding observational research can be found here.
posted by mds35 at 7:08 AM on February 1, 2005


Actually, it's one thing to "watch" childen play....
posted by mds35 at 7:11 AM on February 1, 2005


Studies are done everyday on human behaviors, so what's new here? I think some of you are either afraid of looking foolish in some paper being submitted for a grade, or are so self-important to think you'll actually be singled out and that you feel you're above such an intrusion into your cyber-life ("no photos, please!").

Then there's possibly that hiding-from-the-law/bill collectors/ex [in]significant other (trying not to forget Poland here) crowd who maybe shouldn't be posting anywhere on the web in the first place.

C'mon people, give the guy a pass on this. It could be fun. At the very least it'll certainly generate some of those several hundred comment posts we all love to participate/bitch, moan, and complain in!
posted by LouReedsSon at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2005


More meta-wankery from what used to be a decent library school, and is now trying to figure out how to be relevant by abusing jargon.

I'd object, except that the topic is so poorly defined I suspect the paper won't get written, anyway.
posted by QIbHom at 8:05 AM on February 1, 2005


As a grad student myself, it always warms my heart to learn of someone else working on a topic that is as equally useless as my own.
posted by casu marzu at 8:49 AM on February 1, 2005


Lab Rat #14460 reporting for duty.

(I am not a rat in real life, but I play one on the internets.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:58 AM on February 1, 2005


I'm with mds35 (and the many others who expressed similar ideas); at the four institutions in which I've worked, I'm almost certain that none of the IRBs would have required any consent from anyone for the research that nalihasan has proposed. This is a public forum, and no matter how you slice it, there's nothing here that wasn't put here completely at the discretion of the provider (including what's in your profile, for those of you who seem to think that that matters).

In fact, reading the Department of Health and Human Services regulations for what type of research is eligible for an exception to the requirement for IRB review, any research involving the analysis of publicly-available data or documents meets that criteria. So, by DHHS rules, an IRB doesn't even need to review the research proposal, much less need to require consent from everyone here. (Of course, the DHHS isn't the only agency that gets to say when IRBs and consents are needed, but it's by far the biggest and most involved in the broad protection of "human subjects," as it calls all of us.)
posted by delfuego at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2005


Oi. I just hate lawyers so much... and now I'm beginning to hate academcs for the same reason. Who, in the end, will soothe my wrathful heart?
posted by taz at 9:31 AM on February 1, 2005


huh. I got some strange error message every time I tried to preview that, and finally I just hit "post" to see what would happen... I guess I would have fixed the misspellings, or probably not have posted at all if I had been able to see it in preview. Let's say, "not have posted at all".
posted by taz at 9:38 AM on February 1, 2005


delfuego, you have a good point. However, this project is not limited to observational research. nalihasan will also be contacting some members by email, as indicated here.

All in all, I would say our observer has been well guided by his IRB or faculty advisor. Best of luck to you, Noor!
posted by mds35 at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2005


Also, he has indicated that he will be participating in MeFi. Personally I think that could be problematic, but it also takes his research beyond the realm of "Exempt from IRB Review."

OHRP's IRB Guidebook: "Observational studies that involve intervention in or manipulation of the subjects' environment do require IRB review..."
posted by mds35 at 9:58 AM on February 1, 2005


Yep -- I'm with ya, I clearly didn't look at his project closely enough.
posted by delfuego at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2005


LouReedSon, actually your completely wrong on why I object. This feels like eavesdropping and if this was a public meat space I could leave, tell the person to piss off or agree to be studied but here I would have to stop posting. No illusions of grandeur here, in fact I'm surprised when I get acknowledged.

whispers to taz, forget soothing the wrathful heart I say we seek revenge ;)

Now excuse me I have to go and buy more Reynold's Wrap the rays are starting to get through my tin foil hat.
posted by squeak at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2005


Hmmm. I'm starting to think the "project" was just this link. "If I inform an online community of 20,000 members that I will be studying their posting behaviors, what reaction will that information provoke?" Hypothesis:

* 32% will vaguely perceive this as a troublesome invasion of privacy, though they won't quite be able to articulate why
* 12% will tell those who claim to be bothered why they shouldn't be bothered, since there is no privacy
* 10% will analogize themselves to lab animals
* 4% will question the poster's intentions
* 1% will be doing a similar project, be initially supportive, but become less supportive as time goes by
* 1% will post drunk and write "revoke" when he meant "reserve"
* 1% will make some stupid meta-post implying that the initial post was a ruse to spark discussion of the post itself
posted by pardonyou? at 10:49 AM on February 1, 2005


"This feels like eavesdropping..."

Don't tell squeak about "lurkers", it'll upset her.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:02 AM on February 1, 2005


For pete's sake, get over yourselves. You think the only studies being done on MeFi are the few announced in MeTa? You think your babblings here are so precious they need to be protected by copyright lawyers? (Read up on "fair use" and simmer down.) And for the everloving tears of bleeding Jesus, you think the fact nalihasan announced her project here is somehow suspicious? I hate to use trendy British terms that aren't a normal part of my vocabulary, but: what a bunch of wankers. And yeah, odds are it won't be the most brilliant study ever done, simply because of Sturgeon's Law, but so what? She has a right to study this madhouse, and hey, you never know -- we might learn something.

Also, nalihasan is a she. Is it that hard to click on a user page?
posted by languagehat at 11:56 AM on February 1, 2005


1% will take a "speaking from Olympus" approach.
posted by taz at 12:00 PM on February 1, 2005


Does saying I don't like the idea of being observed for someones term paper make me paranoid? Nope, its not like I wasn't aware of the idea of private/public on the internets before this was announced or that there are people who will read this and not comment and fall under the "lurk" category.

Mock me if you must EB but it doesn't help me understand, it just irritates me.
posted by squeak at 12:19 PM on February 1, 2005


It was gentle mocking, honest. You said it was like "eavesdropping". What is more like eavesdropping than the countless quiet lurkers that are reading yours and my comment right now? Your problem can't be with strangers listening in to your conversations. Because, as you say, you know that strangers are listening to your conversations (on mefi).

So it's something else.

I think it's partly that this is a very over reminder of it. The other thing is like the eavesdropping thing: it also seems like this sort of scrutiny will be in some sense, judgmental. Or, at least, paying a lot closer attention than normal. But I think both those things apply to lurkers. I read metafilter and metatalk for more than a year before I joined and I read everything. More than I read now. I knew as much about the people here as the people who were participating. And I was judgmental, too.

I don't share your apprehension but I acknowledge its reality. I'm not sure of its objective validity, but I grant its subjective validity in your case. But I think it mostly springs from a kind of denial about what we're doing here. This talking back and forth the way we do, it gives the impression of being both ephemeral and private. But it's not either of those things, not even close. It's better that we are aware of this.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2005


A she indeed. Sorry, Noor!
posted by mds35 at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2005


Oops, me too!
posted by carter at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2005


I don't share your apprehension but I acknowledge its reality. I'm not sure of its objective validity, but I grant its subjective validity in your case. But I think it mostly springs from a kind of denial about what we're doing here. This talking back and forth the way we do, it gives the impression of being both ephemeral and private. But it's not either of those things, not even close. It's better that we are aware of this.

just read yourself, e.b.

As for myself, I can't stop laughing.
posted by taz at 3:29 PM on February 1, 2005


Well, good for you. That's nice. I laugh at you quite often, as well.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:45 PM on February 1, 2005


I think there is a bit of confusion going on about why this bothers me between knowing you are being watched because someone out there is interested in the links and discussion and being watched as a lab experiment. In this case the latter is going on. Their intent is not the same as mine or the general idea I have in my head about the intent of others here. Quartermass is right, there is a sense of feeling used by this member.

There really isn't a meat world example that can parallel this one. Best example I can come up with is having a private conversation with a group of friends in a public place and someone comes along and listens in on your conversation and takes notes, hence my use of "eavesdropping". In the meat world I can take steps to avoid being used in this manner, here my only option would be to stop contributing and that doesn't sit well with me. It is a catch 22 and have been aware of it since day one.

This talking back and forth the way we do, it gives the impression of being both ephemeral and private.

Pretty hard not to considering I am in my den, alone typing out the thoughts in my head. The other option would be to try and imagine 20,000+ in my 6'X6' den and I don't think they'd all fit in here ;)
posted by squeak at 7:30 PM on February 1, 2005


Thank you all for your feedback and responses. I apologize for not posting sooner but I’ve been swamped with schoolwork for my other classes. I’ve read all of the comments and here are my responses to your concerns:

Clarification of my project and scope– My project is not a master’s or doctoral thesis. I’m working on a term paper for a master’s level ecommunities class. Therefore, the depth, scope, and length of my observation of MetaFilter will be considerably smaller than other studies. To fulfill part of the class requirement, I am observing and analyzing MetaFilter and applying the concepts from the class and course readings to MetaFilter through a final paper. The definition of the project that I listed is rather broad and I probably will not be able to cover all of those topics in one paper. I merely wanted to document the boundaries of how I will be analyzing MetaFilter. In reality, I will probably have to focus in on two or three of those topics. Some of you have correctly noted that some of these topics have already been defined or studied (i.e. the purpose of MetaFilter). In those cases, I will probably be conducting a literature review, synthesizing and referencing those resources (i.e. the MeFi about page, various press articles).

IRB at the University of Michigan - There’s been a recent change in IRB requirements at UM. The gist of the change is that if you’re working on a project to enhance your learning (and will not be published), you do not have to obtain institutional review from the IRB. However, you still have to comply with ethical standards and draft an ethics proposal. That’s the reason why I posted this thread on MetaTalk. I needed a way to inform the community of what I was doing and posting a thread on MetaTalk is the easiest way to reach the entire community (or at least most of it). As an FYI, I emailed mathowie before posting this thread to obtain his approval and let him know of my class project and that I would be posting this thread (he emailed me back right away with the go ahead). Yes, I will continue to participate under the same screename and my profile will still reflect that I’m studying MetaFilter. Even though doing so will probably bias my interactions with different members, I think it is important to have full disclosure of what I’m doing. My project is not intended to add new insights or knowledge to the world (which is the goal of most scholarly research). The chances of my paper getting published are extremely slim. If I ever wanted to get it published, I would need to get a retrospective IRB approval.

Directly quoting MetaFilter posts and comments – To address your concerns, I have revised my ethics plan. If I decide to pull any quotes, I’ll email the MetaFilter user asking for permission. To further ease concerns, I am not going to be observing specific members (which was never my original intention anyway). If I quote anything, it would be an attempt to prove a point that I make about MetaFilter.

Timing – In light of Quartermass’ research, I realize that the timing of my announcement might seem curious and suspicious. Classes at UM started on January 5th and I selected MetaFilter for my project on January 12th. I signed up on January 16th and drafted an ethics plan on January 24th. I emailed Matt on January 31st. When I received his response, I posted my announcement. There’s not really any more to it than that. I’m not trying to replicate Quartermass’ research, which I actually find to be rather intriguing and important.

Understanding MetaFilter – I’ve been blogging for over three years and reading MetaFilter off and on since then. I may have had a login at one time or another but I don’t think I’ve ever posted any comments on MeFi prior to conducting this class project. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for this community and that’s why I wanted to study it for my class project. I think every researcher has a bias (it is human nature) so my perspective on MetaFilter might be different from a long-time member. There are times when being outside of something allows you to see it from a different perspective.

Opt-in/consent – as Quartermass has already mentioned, this is a pretty gray area right now for online communities. The assumption is that it is a public place, which is ok to observe (as long as you don’t identify anyone specifically).

Thanks again!
posted by nalihasan at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2005


Good luck with the study!
posted by carter at 7:35 PM on February 6, 2005


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