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The Future of Information Sharing

As the world embraces Web 2.0, the effects of social media are on the minds of several researchers at UMBC.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Zeynep Tufekci studies the impact that technology, gender and inequality have on new media. Two of her current research projects specifically examine online social networks. The first project studies how these networks are situated within social practices. The other project, funded by the National Science Foundation, examines interactions between gender, race, social class and technology in relation to career choice and inequality. A former computer programmer, Tufekci studies social media with a sociological eye.

“Connecting is a deep human need,” said Tufekci. “Social networking is scratching a strong itch by providing individuals with the ability to always stay connected.”

When looking to the future, Tufekci sees an “ultra-connected world.” She predicts the cell phone will be more interactive than networking sites like Facebook, providing users with an opportunity to geographically locate friends.

“It would have pluses and minuses,” she said. “There would be more interconnectivity, but it would certainly raise surveillance.”

Like Tufekci, Professor of Computer Science Tim Finin also studies the effects of social media but instead focuses on blogs. One of his team’s ongoing projects includes mining sentiments about different topics (movies, politics, etc.) to sense trends and patterns to evaluate the effectiveness of online advertising through blogs. The team is also learning how to use Wikipedia as a knowledge base to support computer tasks. When looking to the future, Finin sees great changes for the computer.

“In 50 years, I predict people and computers will share a common experience,” he said. “An event will happen in the world, and our computers will know about it.”

In the more immediate future, Finin sees extensive information sharing and a dramatic shift in libraries and record-keeping mechanisms.

Molly Heroux ’09 was one of the first students to enroll in the Media and Communication Studies (MCS) program. Combining her studies in MCS with psychology, Heroux accepted a summer 2008 internship at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Heroux worked toward identifying gaps in Wyeth’s current team communication and collaboration in order to propose alternatives to addressing communication issues using cyber tools. She conducted this research not only to enhance communication among current employees but also to attract a new generation of employees who grew up with these tools. Heroux administered surveys to gather her research, and Wyeth intends to update her survey and conduct it again on a larger scale through an Internet platform.

“There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of online media and a general lack of familiarity with the new modes of cyber communication,” she said. “Oftentimes, there is a one-way flow of communication from top to bottom.”

Heroux looks to social networking to solve some of these communication problems. Her list of recommendations includes instant messaging, internal social networking, one-to-one video conferencing, social news tools, online suggestion forums and fluid notions of workplace and scheduling.

“Encouraging part-time and full-time telecommuting not only cut office costs but also supports women and families.”


Zeynep Tufekci, Tim Finin
and Molly Heroux ‘09

Posted: February 20, 2009, 12:00 PM