Claremont Graduate University: 2004
This research will study the relationship between social networks, social capital, and the use of an information system specifically designed to enhance them. This research builds on the research done by Wellman (2001), Hampton (2004) and others on electronic social networks in local communities. In particular, Hampton (2004) found that the use of [the broadband network and its applications] encourages public participation, the growth of local social networks, the connectivity of local social ties, and the spatial dispersion of local networks. This research will extend his findings by studying the effects of a particular social network software application (as opposed to network applications in general) on the social networks and social capital of its users.
The research will use a multi-phase action research approach to study the change in social networks and social capital of undergraduate commuter students at Biola University when using a social networking web site. First, the principal investigator will work with a focus group of commuter students to co-design a social networking web site that meets the specific needs of this community using the Community Centered Development methodology developed by Preece (2000). Once designed and implemented, 150 to 200 volunteers from the Biola commuter student community will be recruited to participate in the field study. The participants will be divided into two groups: one given access to the system, the other using a paper directory containing the same information. They will be surveyed both before and after their use of the system, with the results being analyzed to: (1) understand the difference in the change in social capital and social networks between the two groups, and (2) understand what effect the different design elements had on these changes. After this initial field study has ended, the web site will be opened up to all commuter students. The system will be monitored for another six weeks to assess how social networks are changing.
The research will provide insight into the emerging area of social networking and community informatics, as well as provide a system that could be used by Biola University to support all Biola students.