ethnographic study of a USEnet newsgroup

Peter B Palij (pbp1@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Fri, 17 Dec 1993 10:05:08 -0500

While there is probably an RFC out there somewhere on this topic, most
of the directly relevant material I've run into is anecdotal, e.g.,
The New York Times, various trade rags such as UNIX Review. Two
journals that have had occasional articles on the social dimensions of
the net are _Computing_Systems_ (the official journal of the USENIX
Association, the body more-or-less responsible for technology issues
related to the Internet) and the Journal of Organizational Computing.

The formal technology rules setting system has a long paper trail
typically under the titles of "Proceedings of the xx Internet
Engineering Task Force". And, of course, there are the RFCs
themselves. This material is primarily focused on technical/mechanical
issues, however, the human dimensions pop up with some regularity.

The use of electronic bulliten boards and email in a product development
process was captured as part of a larger study in:

Workman, John P. (1991), "Racing to Market: An Ethnography of New
Product Development in the Computer Industry," Dissertation, Sloan
School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

There is at least one book of articles focused specifically on the
sociological aspects of the Internet out of the MIT or Oxford
University Press; unfortunately my copy is borrowed and I cann't
cite it immediately.

Finally, number of articles on the organizational impact/implications have
appeared in the management literature:

Morton, Michael S.S. (1992), "The Effects of Information Technology on
Management and Organizations," in Thomas Kochan and Michael Useem,
eds., _Transforming_Organizations_. New York NY: Oxford University

Rice, Ronald E. and Douglas E. Shook (1990), "Relationships of Job
Categories and Organizational Levels to Use of Communications
Channels, Including Electronic Mail: A Meta-Analysis and Extension,"
Journal of Management Studies, 27(2): 195-229

Abstract: This study test hypotheses derived from information
processing theory concerning relationships between individuals' job
category, organizational level, and levels and patterns of media
usage. Media studied include face-to-face, meetings, memos /
letters, telephone and electronic mail. In the meta-analysis of over
40 studies, usage of different media was significantly different for
managers / executives versus others, and was highly correlated with
organizational level. In the individual-level analyses of four
organizations, the majority of respondents were classified into their
actual job categories, and according to distances between
organizational levels, by a discriminant function involving only
relative extent of media use, especially participation in meetings.
Contrary to information richness theory, upper-level respondents
(managers) did not necessarily use electronic mail less than did
lower-level respondents (clerical workers). The article concludes by
discussing implications for theories of organizational media use and
implementation of electronic mail systems.

Finholt, Tom and Lee S. Sproull (1990), "Electronic Groups at Work,"
Organization Science, 1(1): 41-64.

Abstract: This paper considers how computer-based communication
technology, specifically electronic group mail, might affect group
behavior in organizations. It proposes a framework for analyzing
groups formed by electronic distribution lists. It describes the
scope and nature of electronic group mail in one organization,
illustrates how members of electronic distribution lists can exhibit
fundamental group processes, and compare behavior in different kinds
of electronic groups. It suggests that the electronic group at work
is a new social phenomenon that may contribute importantly to
organizational behavior.


Peter Palij Internet:
Columbia University, Graduate School of Business
804 Uris Hall
New York NY 10027