AM Panels & Technical Sessions 2009 START Conference Manager    

Social Reference and Digital Reference: Online question answering practices in two diverse communities

Pnina Shachaf, Howard Rosenbaum, Eileen Abels, Marie Radford, Lynn Connaway, Rich Gazan and Chirag Shah

(Submission #16)


Social reference refers to online web-based question-answering services provided by volunteers on Q&A sites. These Q&A sites, like other web 2.0 participatory social sites, such as Flickr, YouTube, and Wikipedia, are flourishing. Even though the number of visits to these sites increased by 889 percent in just 2 years, from 2006 to 2008 (Hitwise, 2008), and they attract as much traffic as Flickr (Quantcast, 2008), they have not attracted as much research attention. This may be partially due to the novelty of the phenomenon and partially due to the fact that these sites are female dominated (Hitwise, 2008); Q&A sites attract mainly stay at home moms and teenagers (Harper, 2008), unlike the male dominated Wikipedia community. Amid the introduction of ideas such as the “wisdom of the crowd” (Surowiecki, 2004), “here comes everybody” (Shirky, 2008), and “everything is miscellaneous” (Weinberger, 2008), many traditional conceptions of information creation, dissemination, seeking, and use are being challenged. It is possible that on social Q&A sites, the conceptions of the reference encounter are challenged as well. For example, by the utilization of wikis and the exploitation of user participation through collaborative processes, the dyadic reference encounter is no longer the norm. Although social reference and Q&A sites follow a long tradition of library reference (Harper et al., 2008; Shachaf, 2008), specifically online reference services, reference research and research on Q&A sites are mostly detached from one another. Research on Q&A sites primarily includes efforts to incorporate social dimensions into the retrieval mechanism (e.g., Adamic, et al., 2008; Bian et al., 2008); only a few studies have linked or compared library reference services with online question answering sites (Harper et al., 2008; Shachaf, 2008). Reference research and social reference research can inform each other.


SIG SPONSORSHIP?: Information Needs, Seeking and Use (USE)

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