The New York Times has published an article on how different researchers are using social network data generated on Facebook: “On Facebook, scholars link up with data“. It is interesting to hear about the different perspectives and ways in how researchers use publicly available Facebook network data. Some are conducting research using their own students as subjects by letting them write papers as a required assignment in classes they have to take, others actually harvest data from the site, etc. Researcher are using passive observational data (generated through behavior of people on the sites) and also some reported data about behavior as perceived by users.
The issue that comes of up for me is: how valid is observational data if you don’t know the intentions of people using Facebook? I believe that there is a need to understand what drives online behavior beyond the mere structural composition.
Here is why: In our last Organizational Behavior class which mainly consists of young professionals we had a interesting discussion about the use and necessity of online social networking sites (SNS). A lot of people who are no longer in their college network (= don’t use Facebook or MySpace) are either not aware of SNSs or don’t understand why people spend time connecting to their former colleagues online instead of picking up the phone or writing an email.