Blog Review: Summer Social Webshop (Part One) - Q&A with Zack Hayat, Mo Guang-Ying and Alex Garnett
Posted by GRAND NCE, September 20, 2011

Six GRAND doctoral students representing universities across the country were selected to attend the Summer Social Webshop, a 4-day interdisciplinary workshop hosted by the University of Maryland, College Park.  Webshop participants had the opportunity to engage with leaders from a wide range of disciplines, exploring a variety of topics including Internet and Society, Social Media, Collective Action, and Policy, privacy, identity. Factor in a hurricane and the largest East Coast earthquake in more than 60 years, and you have an extraordinary event! 

Part One:
Zack Hayat, University of Toronto
Mo Guang Ying , University of Toronto
Alex Garnett, University of British Columbia 

 Describe one highlight of your experience at the Summer Social Webshop.

Zack For me the high light of the Webshop was the session hosted by the New America Foundation. In that session we got a chance to listen and talk to a group of leading figures from NGOs and Academia all of which are involved in one way or another in the policy making process that take place in Washington. It was the first time I was exposed to the complexity of incorporating academic knowledge into the policy making process.

Mo I had a wonderful experience with the Summer Social Webshop, which had many thought provoking lectures. Though mostly related to the field of Technology Mediated Social Participation (TMSP), the lectures covered various topics and areas from media design to social network analysis, from the development of theoretical framework to practical implication. Furthermore, the communication among students and the lecturers, and the communication among students surrounding the topics became an excellent complement to the lectures. Students particularly use Twitter to ask questions, share their opinion, and provide information about the related references. This communication itself is a great example of TMSP.  

Alex My favourite part of workshops like these is always the opportunity to meet and talk with old and new colleagues, and this one was no exception. This time around, I was perhaps happiest to have the opportunity to talk with Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation, who's at the forefront of developing open-source tools in a research area that I follow with great interest, making those tools and techniques available to the less development-oriented among us. This communication itself is a great example of TMSP. 

... and one challenge

Zack The main challenge for me was to find “common language” when talking with fellow students from other disciplines. Many of us (the students attending Webshop) are facing similar challenges when studding different aspects of social media (e.g. what are the motivation for engaging in different social media platforms?). In some instances I was required to stop and explain to students from other disciplines frameworks, theories and concepts which are “common knowledge” in the information studies field.     

Mo One challenge that I experienced is that there are so many students working on various topics. I notices that the language we used were different. As a result, I found that students from the same field or share the same topic are more likely to talk to each other. I have to say this IS a goal for the organizers to create the chance to people having the same interests to be connected to each other. If we have more time, it might be easier for us to get to understand more different areas.

Alex Similarly, although I know everyone is in this boat more often than not, the most challenging part of the Webshop for me was trying to generalize my research interests, which aren't in Technology-Mediated Social Participation (the quietly-articulated goal of the workshop, at least from NSF's perspective) per se, to those of my fellow participants whom I wanted very much to keep up intelligent conversations with!


If you are studying sociology without studying social network, you are not there yet. It’s just like studying computer science without realizing that it’s actually all about people.

- Zack Hayat

Q How will this experience improve your research?

Zack The main take-aways from Webshop 2011 that will help me improve my research are 1) A better understanding of ways to both analyze and interpret mechanisms that encourage commitment in online communities. 2) Exposure to new research that is being done on models of socio-technical motivations for creating, maintaining, dissolving, social networks. 3) Practical knowledge on the usage of data analysis tools (namely NodeXL that I plan to use for the social network analysis part of my dissertation).

Mo This experience is definitely useful. First, I will try to use a Social Network Analysis tool introduced at the workshop. Second, I met some professors at the workshop whose work is highly related to our project NAVEL in GRAND. I will keep contact them for advice for my future research. Third, the variety of the topics that I heard at the workshop broadened my vision into the field of TMSP and gave me some new ideas about my future work. I might produce a new paper with NAVEL data.   

Alex Although this workshop was light on new methodologies and new research developments that I wasn't previously familiar with, I'm now more personally acquainted with a couple of researched whom I'd had my sights on. Though I'm obviously projecting my bias as a networks guy when I say as much, that's absolutely invaluable.

Would you like to give kudos to a presenter or fellow researcher?

Zack The talk given by Noshir Contractor (Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern) was especially appealing to me. Contractor talked about the understanding and enabling of large socio-communication networks. His talk was especially insightful as he complimented his quantitative analysis (of very large data sets) with insightful qualitatively analysis. I think that this mixture yelled fascinating results in regarding to the notion of enabling large socio-communication networks.

Alex Though I'd seen an earlier version of the work, I still have to tip my hat to Ed Chi, as he's doing some of the most forward-thinking work of anyone I know of in social IR today. With any luck, I'll be able to finagle an internship at some time in the future.

Mo I personally think Noshir Contractor’s presentation is particularly interesting because he structured social networks in a new framework to focus on the relationship between individuals and the content they use. I think it is important because when talking about collaboration or participation, it is not only the questions of who are involved and how they are involved, but what they do together. His new approach may help us to understand collaboration in GRAND in a better way. 


The Summer Webshop was inspiring: I came with several research ideas and had a great experience of media use for intellectual communication. 

- Mo Guang Ying


Q How about that earthquake?!

Zack It was my first experience with earthquake, and I have to say that it wasn’t that bad. Nothing serious happened, and it was somewhat funny to see all the Webshop attendees rushing out of the building while tweeting about what was going on. Even when we were standing outside people were very busy tweeting and checking other tweets, it looked so different from what you might expect to see after an earthquake (or maybe not?).

Alex Geez, how about that? Despite living on the west coast for a couple of years, that was my first earthquake; like everyone else at the workshop, I was dumbfounded enough that I took about as much unfortunate inspiration from this xkcd comic as everyone else.

Mo The earthquake was strong but short – around 10 seconds. And we did not feel any aftershock. After the earthquake, all the students and professors were evacuated to an open space on campus. My observation is that the first reaction most of the people have after the evacuation is information seeking and broadcasting the earthquake through wireless technologies.

Summer Social Webshop (Part Two): Tamara Peyton, York University; Owen Livermore , University of Western Ontario; Jennifer Kayahara, University of Toronto

Return to Summer Social Webshop 2011


Photo credit: University of Maryland