Group Informatics

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Point of Contact: Sean Goggins
Group Informatics is a methodological approach and ontology for understanding the social connections that are created between members of technologically-mediated groups. A substantive literature on small groups exists, but focused understanding of how different types of online groups diverge from traditional groups is limited, and is often focused on the study of a single online group as opposed to taking a comparative approach. Our methodological approach supports focused thinking about how online groups differ from each other, and diverge from their face-to-face counterparts. Group Informatics is grounded in five years of empirical studies of technologically-mediated groups in online learning, software engineering, online political discourse, crisis informatics and other domains. To discuss our methodological approach and the associated methods of group analysis, we first introduce two new constructs: the small, naturally asynchronous group (SNAG) and the socio-technical interaction place (STIP). These new constructs are more precise in their scope than prior constructs, and thus help to bound discourse related to the new kinds of technologically-mediated social relations that are characteristic of online group participation. We describe the Group Informatics Model and the related, two-phase methodological approach in detail. Phase one of the methodological approach centers on a set of guiding research questions aimed at directing the application of Group Informatics to new corpora of integrated electronic trace data and qualitative research data. Phase two of the methodological approach is a systematic set of steps for transforming electronic trace data into weighted social networks. We suggest that the Group Informatics methodological approach begins an important discussion in information science, aimed at advancing empirically and theoretically informed analysis of electronic trace data focused on small groups. Group Informatics can also be used as a foundation to address other phenomena where understanding of how people are connected with each other through technology is a central concern.