[Air-l] research gaps

Steve Jones sjones at uic.edu
Sun Mar 17 17:27:07 PST 2002


At 2:11 PM -0500 3/17/02, Mark Andrejevic wrote:
>In the spirit of getting the discussion going, I'm tempted to take the
>question seriously, and throw out a couple of observations. First,
>while I don't think the list or the organization necessarily purports
>to represent the state of academic inquiry into the Internet in any
>comprehensive fashion, I was very interested to see the breakdown of
>submissions to the Maastricht conference, which might serve as a rough
>starting point for considering areas of research emphasis. Far and away
>the two most popular topic areas were (the meta-topic of)
>"theoretical/methodological approaches", and "individuals, groups, and
>communities" online. I'm not exactly sure how the numbering here works,
>but it looks like these two groups together accounted for well over a
>quarter of the total submissions.
>
>I suspect there are institutional/historical reasons for this kind of
>emphasis that are related to the formation of comm research and the
>sub-disciplines that have emerged (as well as to the institutional
>history/structure of AoIR itself). I'd be very curious to hear people's
>reactions to the kind of emphasis that emerges from this snapshot (if
>anything meaningful can be drawn from such a general set of topic
>areas). What types of justifications/concerns emerge in response to
>this breakdown. (stats are at
>http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/confman/chair/stats.php3)

I'd venture that some of the reasons are accidental. It would be 
interesting to see how this changes over time. Keep in mind that for 
AoIR 3.0 submissions were limited to one panel and one paper per 
person, whereas the previous two conferences did not have a limit.

I also wonder whether there is thinking during the submission process 
concerning the probabilities of acceptance of certain "types" of 
research. To what extent might we second-guess?

>On a more specific note, there were some (seeming) omissions that
>jumped out at me (and I'm sure different ones jump out at different
>people). To name a few: In an era when the industry emphasis seems to
>be on jockeying for vertical integration in the coming broadband era
>(so as to lock up a content/pipeline combo -- with a subscriber base
>built in), I'd be very interested in hearing more about the political
>economy of the Internet -- a topic that seems to beg for the depth of
>scrutiny/analysis possible in academic research. Intellectual property
>is certainly an important part of this research -- and one that has
>received plenty of attention from researchers both in AoIR and out.
>However, the way in which the broadband network will be structured and
>developed (and the role played by regulation and by the recent spate of
>merger activity) that remains a central concern, and I'd be grateful
>for suggestions regarding scholarship in this area.

One particular regret of mine is that our conference has more or less 
overlapped in time with TPRC meetings, and I suspect we have had less 
representation as a result from those interested in policy, legal 
issues, etc. I have been in touch with TPRC about ensuring that we 
don't overlap conference schedules in the future, and hopefully 
that'll be taken care of (so far for the near term it appears to be).

>On a related note, the future of the network is a hot topic in
>business/legal circles. While I'm tormenting my students with
>conceptions of the online public sphere, AOL/TimeWarner is trying to
>figure out how to control broadband's killer app (video on demand,
>allegedly). I would be very interested in research that explores the
>emerging economic/regulatory regime that will shape the future of the
>network. This is crucial research for all who are concerned with the
>fate of things like online community/creativity/democracy.

Does anyone know how much "dark fiber" in the U.S. is currently owned 
by media companies? I'm wondering to what extent an AOL/TW may decide 
to forego the present Internet and own their own network. Let's say 
that broadband does expand at an increasing rate, and much of it via 
cable modem. Internet service is but one of many services that might 
be provided - why not provide a digital stream independent of the 
Internet for entertainment (or anything else)? This would be the 
commercial equivalent of Internet2 in its way.

It would also provide plenty of opportunity to block/filter content 
at the router level, like those pesky files people share, and allow 
music and other downloads only via the "approved" channels.

>One of the things that Internet research can/ought to do is not just
>tell us where we have been, but provide some suggestions about where
>we're presumably going, and how we might exercise some control over
>that path. At stake is not just the "code", but the infrastructure: a
>broadband network that's fat downstream (to facilitate pay-per-view)
>but thin upstream (to prevent file-sharing between "end-users") could
>alter what we have come to think of as the non-hierarchical,
>de-centered character of the net and exert important determinations on
>online activity. Any pointers toward research that addresses these
>issues?

None from me...plenty of discussion about it in various circles, but 
no research that I've come across. Anyone else?

Sj




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