New Northwestern Social Media Lab
As Fall Quarter and this new web site get underway, let me say first that I’m thrilled to be joining the faculty in the MTS program here at Northwestern. I thought I’d take this opportunity to briefly highlight some of the work that’s just getting started in the brand new NU Social Media Lab. My research group defines social media very broadly — as any communication technologies that enable people to socialize and work together — and are interested in better understanding how people use social media to manage and coordinate their interactions.
We use a variety of methods and perspectives in our research. One key area for us right now, for example, involves understanding what we call “butler lies.” Butler lies are a common strategy (about 2% of all SMS messages are butler lies) people use for explaining that they are not available to interact, such as saying “I’m on my way!” when they haven’t left home yet, or “sorry, i just saw your text!” to excuse a late response. We call them “butler lies” because they’re the type of lie a butler might once have told when answering the door (i.e., “I’m sorry, the master is not at home”). We believe that understanding how people manage when they are not available is key to designing systems for a world in which constant connectivity is a given.
To study butler lies, we’ve gathered about 20,000 text and IM messages using methods including: building our own Android OS SMS application that allows us to capture text messages directly from participants’ phones, bringing pairs of friends to our lab and asking them each if they think the other’s messages are deceptive, interviewing people about how they use butler lies, and having them fill out online surveys in which they answer questions about specific messages.
We bring a similarly diverse approach to other current projects on how people negotiate joint attention in starting online conversations, how people manage their working relationships in writing documents together, the effects of cultural background on social media use, and others. Check out our web site to learn more or get in touch!
- Jeremy Birnholtz
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