Experiments in Mapping an Online Community

I’m having an ethical issue surrounding the access to the database of ABC Pool – I would like to use this data to map the community/network to prove the theories my qualitative data suggest. The issue is having access to identifiable data: I have not received permission from every member of Pool to do so. My process is to de-identify the data immediately, only work with that rinsed data, and to offer findings in an aggregated form.  I am a responsible researcher that would not exploit this data in any way, however this is why ethics have been established – to protect those being examined or researched. If a Pool user knew their data (as minimal as it is with name, email address, and location) was going to be accessed by researchers at a later date, would they have signed up to Pool in the first place? Because of that, it’s just not right to pull this data without the users knowing.

After completing a draft ethics application, my supervisors asked me to think of alternative ways of finding the answers I seek – they all agree it would be very tricky for an ethics board to approve this research method (I’m starting to gnerate new ways to create a network without accessing the raw data).

After looking at the minimal amount of data I have access to as a researcher within the “admin” view of Drupal 6, I started to wonder if there are real life scenarios that might reflect how to map a network of users. Scramble crossings may provide a suitable solution – an organised chaos that seems to work for many users, multiple times on any day:

The following is what I observed while conducting this experiment of the scramble crossing on cnr of George and Druitt sts Sydney:

  • There are two states: one of activity and one of non-activity
  • People approach on their way to somewhere and wait until given direction to move forward
  • There are multiple moments of interaction between individuals as they cross the road
  • The moment of interaction is when established norms are acted out – noone says anything but every individual passes without issue (most times)

So how to map it?

Perhaps the observations could provide an answer on how to map Pool. In that case, it would make sense to observe and collect data:

  • When there is high activity (contributions for a project)
  • Sample individuals and follow there movements (perhaps 50 users within one project)
  • Gather a sample of enough instances (count comments or remixes)
  • Produce an outcome that indicates broader trends