«Andrés Gregor Zelman The University of Amsterdam 2002 ii Mediated Communication and the Evolving Science System: Mapping the Network Architecture of ...»
Equally meaningful are the list participation statistics calculated as a percentage of active subscribers.4 List participation provides a means of comparing each mailing list on the basis of the architectural dynamics involved in the fostering and maintenance of an Internet mailing list as an information network. Figure 7.2: List Participation %, below shows the results of this calculation.
From this second calculation it appears that some lists (like Sci-Tech-Studies) have a remarkably high list activity, while the actual list participation remains considerably low. This indicates that for some lists there are few very active subscribers, and an overwhelming amount of members who subscribe but do not participate. Perhaps more interesting is that the EuroCon-Knowflow list ranked among the top three lists with particularly high degrees of participation. The Luhmann and Principia Cybernetica lists both operate at the field level, whereas the EuroCon-Knowflow list operated at the project level. Interestingly, in these cases a high degree of ‘active’ information network formation can be observed. These lists are very related in terms of the subject matter addressed, and in this respect it is possible that there may be some degree of self-organization in the case of these three lists.
As with the results obtained from the calculation of list activity, the results of the list participation calculation conformed to our expectations. It was expected that electronic networking would blur formal and informal dimensions traditionally associated with print when general list activity was considered. This was confirmed by the distribution illustrated above in Figure 7.1: List Activity: Mails / Day. Then, 4 Those who do not contribute to the list are referred to as lurkers (non-active). Mailing list activity is calculated as the percentage of members who have contributed at least one message.
120 given the intentionality involved in sending messages in response to one another (thereby forming threads), it was expected that differences between project, intermediate and field levels could be identified. This was indeed the case – the calculation of list participation seems to indicate that the lists with the highest degrees of participation are generally field level lists with the exception of the EuroConKnowflow. This observation is further reinforced in the next section where list participation in threads is examined for its network dimensions.
Network The second step entailed the calculation of the communication statistics for each list, and reflects the ANT theory of network formation. For each list the number of threads and the number of individuals participating in each thread were counted. Once collected, the percentage of members participating in threaded mails was measured to enhance our understanding of how individual mailing lists are the collective product of distinctly individual actions: network formation. The percentage of threaded mails was determined by dividing the number of messages occurring in threads by the total number of messages. The percentage of contributing members was then calculated by dividing the number of members participating in threaded messages by the total number of active subscribers. Figure 7.3: Participation in Threaded Mails % illustrated below shows the results of this calculation.
The chart reveals that the intermediary (Greek) lists do not function in terms of threads. They will be left out from further analysis because here the primary concern here are the thread dynamics. Additionally, it has also been identified that the lists with a cognitive focus on self-organization seem to be organized more in threads than the others. Threaded-ness, used here, should therefore be considered here as a codification of cognitive organization.
The expectations concerning the lack of blurring between formal and informal dimensions traditionally associated with print were not confirmed by the calculation 121 of list participation. Here too, as indicated in Figure 7.3: Participation in Threaded Mails % (above) we find that the distinctions between project, intermediate, and field level lists are reinforced. Thus, there is a correlation between the total list participation and the level of thread participation. The Pearson correlation is 0.96;
Figure 7.4: Total List Participation % & Thread participation % below shows this correlation graphically.
100 80 60
As an additional task in this step, each thread was categorized into one of six different message topics (administrative, announcement, maintenance, miscellaneous, query, and theory). These topics were then calculated as a percentage of total threaded mails.
Figure 7.5: Overall Thread Distribution, shown below, displays the results of this step.
122 Again, an emphasis is placed on the relevance of Actor Network Theory in understanding (information) network formation as a product of collective action. By specifying thread activity by topic, the communicative value of each mailing list was assessed. By specifying thread topics, different types of threads were isolated to identify each list as exhibiting certain characteristics.
In Figure 7.5: Overall Thread Distribution we see little correlation between field, intermediate and project levels in the thread distribution. Administrative threads figure particularly low (if at all) in all mailing lists except EuroCon-Knowflow.
However, this is not surprising as it was the only project-related list under analysis. It is notable that theory threads figure particularly high in all lists examined in this step, with the exception of the relatively low theoretical count of the EuroCon-Knowflow list. When the respective theory, query, or announcement distributions were compared, a better sense of the collective priorities of each list was obtained.
Here the nature of the cognitive exchange in the lists was theorized. Given the intertextual (meaning) network offered by Poststructuralist analyses, certain liberties were taken in interpreting the structural differentiation between lists by focusing solely on thread distribution. The majority of lists exhibit relatively high theory counts and low administrative counts, but it is also significant that announcements figured low in some field lists like Luhmann, and yet high in others like Sci-TechStudies. The similarity between project (SIMSOC) and field level (Luhmann) lists is also notable in the case of query threads. Additionally, the Structuration Theory distinction between social and system integration proves useful here. Thread distribution can be understood to reflect (architectural) elements of system integration, while list participation (above) reflects elements of social integration.
System Step three involved a slightly more detailed analysis of the thread communication statistics for each mailing list. The additional detail concerns the analysis of variance in the size and duration of threads in order to deduce self-organizational or systemic dynamics particular to Internet mailing list communication. This procedure stems from the theory of self-organized criticality and involved the counting of the number of messages per thread, and calculating how long each thread of messages lasted in days (by specifying the start day for each thread). The results were translated into logarithmic scale to obtain the x-function for each list. Figure 7.6: EuroCon – Messages Log and Figure 7.7: Luhmann – Messages Log show two examples of the graphs produced in this step.
0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 0 0.5 1 1.5 2
From this analysis it proves difficult to determine which lists are self-organizational and which are hierarchical. While none of the lists appear to be self-organizational, it cannot be concluded that there are none at all, because it remains impossible to determine which level would in fact indicate self-organization given the limited size of the dataset. Since there is a middle grouping that has an average of roughly while there are periphery lists ranging from -0.05169 to 1.3955, it may be the case that we have isolated mixtures of self-organization and non-self-organization.
Nonetheless, Self-Organization Theory remains a relevant stance here. While it was expected that some semblance of self-organization could be observed, the data sets themselves appear to be too limited to reveal any self-organized criticality. Indeed, more traditional measures of self-organized criticality employ much larger data sets, and the measure of self-organizational properties employed here is of little use given the limited amount of thread frequencies in each of the lists.
The reader should note that this does not necessarily imply that there are no selforganizational elements operating here, but that the data sets as they have been compiled are not suited to this type of analysis. Thus, while the third research question highlighted the difference between hierarchically and self-organizationally oriented dynamics, the possibility that there may be self-organizing aspects at hand has not been abandoned. While self-organization cannot be observed here, one cannot conclude that mailing lists do not exhibit any self-organizing qualities; it may be that hierarchical and self-organizational dynamics operate in tandem.
The primary aim of this analysis was to outline the dynamics of the Internet mailing list with respect to its potential to enhance networked communication. Addressing this aim involved a detailed study of the processes of knowledge production evident in the email messages that constitute the exchange between members of Internet mailing lists. A selection of Science & Technology Studies and Self-Organization oriented mailing lists were examined to understand the architectural, network and systemic relationships fostered by the use of electronic media, and significant results were found.
124 The list comparison provided us with evidence that Internet mailing lists operate as information networks and have a discernable architecture; here Medium Theory was used to emphasize the connectivity in mediated relations. These networks were then shown to be actively produced and maintained through concerted collective action, and Actor Network Theory was used to reflect upon the implications of mapping this cognitive interconnectivity. Postructural and Structurational theories of meaning and network were also used in this sense. It was learned that field level lists perform roles particular to their specific functions with respect to participation in general, and that there is a strong correlation between list participation and thread participation. This reflected the original expectations that despite the blurring capacity of electronic media (which was evident with list activity), the formal / informal distinction is maintained with respect to project, intermediate and field level lists when examined for their respective levels of participation.
Additionally, it was expected that since mail-listings are intentionally posted, the formal distinctions apparent in traditional (print) media would be discernable.
However, it appears that electronic relations do not supplant these original distinctions, but reinforce them. But that is not to say that they remain identical.
Clearly electronic media do foster new and unique types of network relations but they also appear to reinforce those relations associated with the use of traditional (print) media. Electronic media, therefore, do not replace earlier dynamics but in fact supplement them – the Internet does not erase these original differences. Such communication does not occur in a vacuum, but with reference to substantive communication, and here was found a mixture of transition.
For formal communication at the field level, and for informal communication at the level of research practice, these results imply that one may expect significant differences in the ways that individuals may electronically communicate with each other regardless of rank or experience. But, despite this observation, the formal / informal distinction is nevertheless imported into this new media environment.
Finally, with respect to the primary aims, and contrary to the expectations, the analysis proved unable to discern self-organizational network properties in any of the Internet mailing lists under analysis.
The secondary aim of this study was to outline the key similarities and differences between the EuroCon-Knowflow mailing list, which houses the communication of the Self-Organization of the European Information Society (SOEIS) research project, and a selection of other related mailing lists. It was found that while the EuroConKnowflow list exists primarily as a project meeting place, its dynamics reflect those of field level lists. This is a positive sign in the sense that there appears to be a rich level of theoretical discussion, making the list both interesting and dynamic. This changes the relation between informal and formal since it brings the field dynamics within the control of intentional action.
As with Chapter V: Analysis of Electronic Communication, it has been shown here that electronic media were integral to the functioning of the SOEIS project, and more generally that the processes of knowledge production evident in electronic communication differ from print. The Internet mailing list was shown to supplement and thereby enhance academic exchange. The use of this cybermetric approach has 125 broadened the possibilities of metric analyses, and the complete set of metric approaches used in tandem with the theoretical model has permitted a means of comparing the results of all empirical analyses. The Architecture – Network – System triad will be employed again in Part III – Reflection to compare, map, and reflect upon the complex interlacing of the different communicative domains under observation in this analysis.
126 PART III – REFLECTION