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Validity issues in the use of social network analysis for the study of online communities

Howison, James; Crowston, Kevin; Wiggins, Andrea

Abstract: There is an exciting natural match between social network analysis methods and the growth of data sources produced by social interactions via information technologies, from online communities to corporate information systems. Information Systems researchers have not been slow to embrace this combination of method and data. Such systems increasingly provide “digital trace data” that provide new research opportunities. Yet digital trace data are substantively different from the survey and interview data for which network analysis measures and interpretations were originally developed. This paper examines 10 validity issues associated with the combination of digital trace data and social network analysis methods, with examples from the IS literature, to provide recommendations for improving the validity of future research.

This research was partially supported by US National Science Foundation Human and Social Dynamics Program Grant 05-27457. The first author would like to thank Carnegie Mellon University, especially James D. Herbsleb, for hosting him as a post-doctoral during revisions on this paper. The paper benefited from discussions with doctoral students in the CMU Computation and Society Ph.D. program, including George Davis, Jamie Olson, Peter Landwehr, Jana Diesner, Laurie Jones and Jesse St. Charles. Thanks also to Sean Goggins for discussion and feedback on drafts of this paper
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