Archive for June, 2008

links for 2008-06-26

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Gender differences in sharing creative content online

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

This ArsTechnica write-up of some recent research of mine has received numerous votes on the recommendation site Digg in the last few hours. I wonder if it will make the front page of Digg, although as a Twitter contact of mine noted, since it’s not a top-10 list (nor, if I might add, does it cover Google or Apple), that may be unlikely.

The post reports on a study in which we found that male college students are more likely than their female counterparts to share creative content online even though both men and women in the sample are equally likely to create such content. However, when controlling for online skill, the gender differences in posting go away.

Gina Walejko and I published the paper “The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age” this Spring in the journal Information, Communication and Society. We examine the extent to which college students share creative content online and whether we can identify any systematic differences by user background. In particular, we looked at whether students create and share the following types of material: poetry/fiction, artistic photography, music, and video (both completely own and remixed in the case of the latter two), including both private and public sharing.

Administering a paper-pencil survey on a diverse group of over a thousand first-year college students at the University of Illinois, Chicago in 2007, we found that men are significantly more likely to share their creative output online than women. This was especially true for video (with 40% of men sharing such content compared to 15% of women), but holds for the other types of material as well.

Curious to see what explains these differences in sharing, we looked at whether various measures of Internet experience account for the divergences. We controlled for years of use, frequency of Internet use, number of Internet access locations, and online skill. Of these four, skill was a significant predictor of sharing activity. In fact, once skill is in the model, gender is no longer a significant predictor of posting one’s material.

There may be additional issues going on for which, I’m afraid, we have no data. For example, women may be more concerned about privacy issues or the critiques their content may receive. I’m working with another student on doing some qualitative follow-up work on this aspect of the question.

There are some more details in a press release Northwestern put out about the study or feel free to send me a note for a copy of the full paper.

links for 2008-06-24

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Links for 2008-06-23

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Videos on the tubes of the internets

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Time Sink!

If you have some time to kill or need to introduce someone to Internet memes then take a look at this timeline. [Link no longer works.] Zoom in for some of the less visible videos. Any of your favorites missing?
UPDATE: Well, that didn’t last long. A commenter notes that the page is no longer accessible. Here is a screenshot. Use of Dipity for this was interesting since showing all this on a time line adds something to the list.

Map of things to do in Budapest

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

A lot of people I know are heading to Budapest these days (whether for pure touristy reasons or for one of the many meetings being held there) so using the My Maps feature on Google Maps, I’ve compiled some annotated recommendations for visitors. These include pastry shops mostly visited by locals with desserts to die for. No, seriously, these are a must and visiting the city without going to some of these would be sad and wasteful.

I also include a pointer to a grocery store with the goal of finding the Hungarian snack Túró Rudi (details: check the dairy section for items that look like a candy bar in a red-dotted wrapper). I would say it’s the most missed item by Hungarians abroad. It’s basically lemony sweet farmer’s cheese coated in dark chocolate. Yum! Wikipedia conveniently has more info, not that words can possibly convey the experience. Some companies new to the country in the ’90s have tried to create other versions (e.g., with fruit filling or milk chocolate coating), but I would rather not even acknowledge those as they’re ridiculous imitations. On the topic of grocery stores, someone recently complained that they couldn’t find any fruits and veggies in them. That’s because other than the gigantic supermarkets, these tend to be sold in separate venues.

I didn’t bother listing most of the traditional sights included in guide books, numerous Web sites and guides will point those out. I do highlight, however, an incredibly touching Holocaust memorial on the Danube (first link on my map). It’s relatively new and not something one would stumble upon by chance, yet definitely worth visiting and now you know where to find it.

Understanding success vs failure in new forms of organizing

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Anyone who is familiar with Clay Shirky’s writing won’t be surprised to hear that in his new book Here Comes Everybody, he does a very nice job of discussing how recent technological innovations are allowing for more and more “organizing without organization”. The book is a great mix of engaging descriptions about examples of how people come together in the pursuit of various goals and interests, and a deeper more conceptual examination of how such phenomena are changing in light of recent advances in technology.

I was invited to participate in a discussion of this book over on the TPM Café Book Club and am sorry to come to the conversation so late due to some travel having thus missed out on much interesting back-and-forth. Nonetheless, I wanted to add a bit to the conversation.

The issue I want to raise has to do with questions of inequality like much of the earlier discussion, although I approach this from a somewhat different angle than what’s been presented. While there is no question that new opportunities are allowing more folks to organize and more voices to be heard, they seem to privilege those already in more advantageous positions. I’d like to see more discussion of what circumstances in particular allow those with fewer resources to benefit from these new opportunities.

Let me take a step back as I describe where I am going with this. I will start by approaching it from the point of view of what ends up being a successful organizing (“without organization”, that is:), where success is understood as intended levels of engagement by participants and the extent to which goals are accomplished.

What is it that makes one effort more successful than another? Why does rallying people around one issue result in so much more active participation than getting people excited about another matter? Is it not so much about the topic, rather, about the organizing that yields a different outcome? And if it is the latter then while traditional organization may no longer be necessary, it’s worth thinking about what aspects of new forms of organizing yield more or less successful outcomes.

Success with organizing is related to attention allocation. As Herbert Simon so aptly noted many years ago:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” (1971)

New tools don’t change the fact that there are only so many hours in the day and so much attention that people have to give to any one type of activity. So who with what topic or goal has more of a chance at attracting attention?

This is where inequality comes in: Those more likely to attract attention to their content and activities are those who are already more privileged in one way or another. For example, those with more skills in understanding the new tools have a better chance of reaching out to and mobilizing enough initial interest to achieve beneficial outcomes than those who lack an understanding of these new opportunities. Alternatively, those with people in their networks who have the necessary skills (and time) will have a better chance at this than those who lack knowledgeable friends and family.

This is precisely the issue at hand concerning the story in Clay’s book regarding the lost/stolen cell phone and what followed in tracking it down. At the Supernova 2008 conference where Clay and I both spoke earlier this week, an attendee told a very similar story of his own, although this concerned a stolen laptop. The point is that Clay is right, such situations are increasingly common. However, like the woman in the book, the man at the conference was also one with considerable resources – not just financial, but also in terms of human and social capital – that likely made him a good candidate for benefiting from new tools.

I don’t mean to suggest that Clay ignored these issues of inequality in the book as he explicitly offers relevant caveats throughout the writing. Nonetheless, I still think the issue is worth highlighting as I think it is a crucial part of the story that is not understood very well and deserves more discussion.

While it is certainly the case that new technologies, tools and services are leveling the playing field, existing societal position and resources still matter. The question is: when do they matter more or less? Under what circumstances do people with less resources still manage to benefit from the new tools in ways that would have been difficult earlier? What are the examples of mobilization that do not involve people with PhDs, ones with noteable techie know-how or one’s with considerable financial resources either themselves or among those in their networks? There are such examples, certainly, but it would be interesting to see systematically what it is that unites them. What commonality is there among such cases that suggests a true leveling of the playing field that goes beyond allocating more opportunities to those who are already considerably privileged? (On a sidenote, these issues are similar to the ones I raised while discussing Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks.)

Because the book focuses on examples of successful organizing, it is hard to discern why some attempts at it fail. (To be sure, Clay also discusses failed projects, for example, in the open-source software movement, but his main focus is the overall effect of such sofware on the industry as a whole.) Of course, failures are harder to find, especially lacking any organization of such information. Nonetheless, a deeper exploration of this side of things would help in understanding the extent to which the playing field is truly being leveled across all societal segments thanks to emerging new tools.

links for 2008-06-21

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

links for 2008-06-20

Friday, June 20th, 2008

links for 2008-06-19

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

links for 2008-06-16

Monday, June 16th, 2008

links for 2008-06-14

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

links for 2008-06-13

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Revisiting a topic given changes in the landscape

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

In the comments thread over on Crooked Timber about homepages of academics, reader Oisin asks:

I’m a PhD philosophy student, entering my 2nd year; is maintaining a blog a good idea for a PhD student, in addition to having a homepage? Or is it perhaps a bad idea? And if so, why?

How having a blog may influence an academic’s career is a topic that’s been discussed a lot among bloggers in the past. Nonetheless, taking it up once again in light of changes in the blogging landscape makes sense. As I consider the question, I will note some significant differences among blog types and why the term “blog” has limited utility.

To blog or not to blog is not really the question. What parts of one’s self one wants to portray publicly and to a professional community is more the issue at hand.

What do I mean by “changes in the blogging landscape”? The practice of blogging keeps on spreading well beyond the geeky tech-savvy realms of its initial years. I don’t just mean the practice of authoring blogs, but the understanding of what blogs are and the practice of reading them.* Given this change in who is aware of and reading blogs, maintaining one may mean something different today than it did a few years ago so I think it’s worth another discussion.

I started blogging (in May, 2002) just a few months before going on the academic job market. I don’t recall concerns about negative repercussions, but by then I had already been maintaining a mailing list with hundreds of subscribers and mainly saw the value in an activity of the sort (e.g., dissemination of ideas, meeting people) rather than potential concerns. In any case, at that time few people on hiring committees knew what a blog was much less would have been reading them so I think it is easy to argue that blogging at that point may well have influenced an academic’s career less than it might today, for better or for worse.

As I have watched blogging become more mainstream in some circles (e.g., what’s up with the recent upsurge in bloggers among sociologists?), I’ve started to wonder, again, about the potential career consequences of blogging especially given that it is sometimes done in ways I would not necessarily consider conducive to one’s career.

But the general question of whether an academic should blog is complicated. There are several issues at hand and these may all influence its desirability.

First, should one blog under one’s own name or under a pseudonym and how does this decision influence things? Next, what are the types of topics one should cover? Should one stick to or avoid research, current events, professionalization topics, teaching, personal information, pop culture, anything and everything in between? What style should one use (professional, chatty, combative, arrogant**, etc.)? What should be the frequency of posts (several times a day, every couple of days, few times a month)? These are just some of the considerations and potential variations in blogs and how they and their authors may be perceived.

It is precisely this long list of variables that makes it nearly impossible to give general advice about whether an academic (at the grad student level, junior faculty level or any other level for that matter) should or should not blog. I continue to believe that there are potential benefits to blogging, both personal and professional. However, I also think, increasingly, as I come across all sorts of blogs, that some people are likely not being helped by their blogging. For example, if you write under your own name and do so in a style that suggests you think very highly of your smarts yet your posts seem to suggest that you are not very bright then it is hard to see how that would be beneficial (but perhaps it is not detrimental either). On the other hand, if you write really smart commentary, but do so under a secret identity, it is not clear how that is going to be helpful either. (On that note I should add that it seems extremely rare in the case of academic pseudonymous blogging that the identity of the author is not revealed eventually, at least to some, which is something for folks choosing that path to keep in mind.)

So my overall advice? Be smart about your online presence, whether on blog or on email. Realize that what you write – whether under a pseudonym or not – may well be connected to you later so it should be material you are willing to stand up for in situations other than the privacy of your living room (where much of blog writing is likely drafted).

What does it mean to “be smart” in this realm? This is where people will likely disagree, which is why I hesitate to give more fine-grained advice. Personally, I find it off-putting when people’s style suggests that they think highly of themselves, but little of their writing delivers.

But styles can also add something positive to otherwise mundane topics. For example, I don’t know if early in one’s career (or any other time for that matter) is the time to advertise a series of professional rejections broadly (e.g., blog post about having been rejected from a conference followed by a blog post about having been rejected from a journal followed by a blog post about having been rejected in a fellowship application process). On the other hand, even such information could be conveyed in a way that suggests a reflective and careful thinker.

Alternatively, if a graduate student is trying to be part of a professional blogging community – that is, s/he is mainly engaging in conversation with other people from the field – then it may not make sense to focus a string of posts on something like having spent a day at the beach, a day watching football, and a day baking cookies. Nonetheless, if done in a witty, interesting and insightful way, that could be fine as well.

Perhaps where I am going with this is that if it is more likely to be a personal journal of brief notes about one’s everydays then it is not clear why it would need to be linked to a professional community (and thus I would keep the blog separate from a professional homepage and I would not necessarily link to it when commenting on blogs of colleagues). However, if one engages in topics of broader appeal then it can make sense to make that part of one’s public persona as it can be beneficial to come to be known as an interesting and careful thinker.

All of this brings me back to a point I have been making for a while (but to which I cannot find a reference at the moment, perhaps mostly having made this point in talks): the term “blog” is of limited utility as it refers to so many different genres. This applies in the academic realm as well as others. Whether an academic should or should not maintain a blog is partly dependent on how one defines, understands and approaches the writing and communicating with others. Instead of asking oneself whether one should blog, I’d ponder its intended purpose and goals, and contemplate answers to the questions I listed above.

And one important final point. Ultimately, whether one gets hired or gets a promotion will have a lot to do with one’s academic record. In that sense, much of the above may be irrelevant except to consider whether blogging is eating into one’s research time or time otherwise spent on, say, watching reruns of Law & Order (totally random example I pulled out of nowhere;).

[*] That said, I have to share one of my recent Twitter messages here: “reality check: Man taking photos of pastry in store with high-end camera, seller asks if he’s a blogger; response: what’s that?”

[**] For the record, I don’t actually believe that many people make a conscious decision about wanting to write in an arrogant style, but some end up doing so and there is little appealing about it.

The importance of Web sites for academics

Monday, June 9th, 2008

A propos the discussion of CVs for academics going on the job market, I’ve been meaning to post about the importance of having some Web presence, especially a homepage one maintains with information about one’s work.

I’ve been continually surprised over the years about how many academics fail to take advantage of the Web as a medium for disseminating their work. This seems especially important in the case of those actively seeking a job in the near future.

Whenever I go to a conference, I’m on the lookout for students doing interesting work. Recently, I saw a few impressive presentations and wanted to follow up by learning more about these students. I know we’ll be hiring next year and I wanted to share information about these potential candidates with my colleagues. I looked them up online so I’d have more to go on. Nothing. This is an opportunity missed.

What should a basic homepage include? It should have information that a CV would contain, but the nice thing about a Web site is that it can easily include additional information. In the least, abstracts of published papers would be helpful. Of course, most helpful is to have full copies of these papers. While copyright issues may arise, preprints are almost always okay to post.

Although I don’t encourage students to post too many details about papers not yet accepted for publication, it is possible to mention one’s areas of interests and expertise and that will give visitors a better sense of one’s work than no information whatsoever.

CVs for the academic job market

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Over on Scatterplot, there is a discussion of how CVs should look when students (or recent graduates) are applying for academic jobs.

I wrote a long comment that I figured I would reproduce here (with some editing for context). My experience comes from having applied to numerous positions when I was on the job market in 2002 (with several on-campus visits and then job offers resulting) and from having sat on a couple of hiring committees in addition to seeing CVs of additional folks who’ve been interviewed in my department and some others on campus over the past few years.

One way to approach putting together one’s CVs for an academic job application is to look at the CVs of people who’ve gotten jobs recently, jobs of interest to the candidate. If someone’s been out for a few years, it’s fine to ask them for a copy of their CV from the time when they were on the market. (On that note, it’s also worth asking people for a copy of their application letters.)

Overall, it’s important to put the most important information on the first couple of pages. What’s most important? This partly depends on the type of job (top research department vs liberal arts college vs lots of other possibilities). My comments are mainly about applying to top research departments in sociology, communication and some related fields.

Order – For top research positions, I’d start with degrees (including school, field, year), then perhaps a line or two about interests followed by publications, grants and awards, invited presentations then conference presentations, followed by teaching and service. If it’s a type of department where teaching may be more important than research then I may put teaching above presentations to signal its importance. Another place to emphasize teaching is in the application letter as well as by including additional materials in the packet such as teaching philosophy or teaching evaluations.

Formatting – Please skip any fancy formatting, fancy paper or fancy binding. The latter, especially, can be very distracting. The last time I was on a hiring committee, there were a few files where the applicant put his/her material in an additional folder. (The staff putting together the materials tend to create folders for each applicant anyway.) Sometimes, these folders make the CVs and other materials harder to access. I realize it may sound ridiculous that it would be a notable nuisance to deal with this, but when you have just a few hours (yes, that’s the reality of the situation) to go through 100+ applications then any such distractions make a difference.

Papers that have been submitted to a journal for review and have been invited for resubmission – These should be listed, although I’d prefer to see them in a section separate from Publications. One possibility is to have a separate section called “Papers Under Review” where the first entries can be the ones with an R&R (“revise and resubmit) status. However, I would not list specific journal, if for no other reason, because it compromises the blind review process.

Papers under review – I hate seeing these on CVs, but I have experienced colleagues bringing them up in discussion at earlier stages in the process. While I don’t believe it does someone any good at the long-short list stage, it may help in retaining a name/file for that stage. (That is, when the committee is working its way from 100+ applications to, say, 20-30, these entries may help keep a file in the pile.) My preference – as a committee member on the other end – would be to see this under a separate section after publications as noted above.

Unpublished papers not under review – Some folks will list papers that are not under review (e.g., XYZ Title. ABC Department. Unpublished Manuscript). I would not include these. If anything, I’m left wondering why they haven’t been submitted for review if they are full papers.

Declined awards – If these are off-campus awards then I would mention them. These tend to be declined either because the recipient also received another award that created a conflict or for personal reasons, neither of which signal professional concerns (in fact, the former suggests that the recipient is very resourceful in successfully applying for several awards).

Dissertation abstract – While I’ve certainly seen people include this (and have seen such friends get good jobs) I personally hate to see CV space wasted on this. There are plenty of other places in the packet where one can include this information (most notably as a paragraph in the application letter). I turn to the CV for a quick glance at the main accomplishments such as publications, grants and awards. That said, most of our searches tend to be pretty broad so we’re not necessarily looking for very specific things. I guess if a department had a very specific need to fill then perhaps one could communicate a match in the abstract.

Tailoring to job specifics – If a deparment is looking for something specific (i.e., it’s not an open search) then it’s a good idea to tailor either the letter or the CV (or both) to the position.

All-in-all, I’d draft a CV and show it to faculty in one’s department for feedback (obvious person being one’s advisor, but getting feedback from additional faculty can also be helpful).

links for 2008-06-06

Friday, June 6th, 2008

links for 2008-06-05

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

links for 2008-06-04

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

links for 2008-06-03

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008