Home    Basics Search Strategies EResources Things to Try Contact

Introduction Potential Use and Abuse Attitudes Toward Newsgroup Research
Research in Action

Related resources:
Alternative Press, Electronic Sources and Resources



Usenet, chat rooms, web forums, social media sites, and other varieties of electronic discussion groups all have the potential of being both research resources -- providing information that can reveal much about a company, person, product or service -- and research tools -- providing ready-made focus groups, survey groups, or target markets.

Such groups come in a variety of flavours: moderated and unmoderated; publicly accessible or password protected; available to everyone or open only to those who qualify; or made unexpectedly public by the technology, by deliberate grants of access, or by the actions of others. Some are purely informational, with postings consisting of news and announcements; other encourage interactivity. To identify groups of interest, begin with:

A Question of Ethics and the Law

Before plunging in whole-heartedly, it behooves us to understand something about the dangers, ethics and legalities of using discussion groups in this way. Just because someone has posted an opinion does not mean that a reader is free to use it just as he or she likes. Consider:

Top of Page

Potential Use and Abuse



Major Cautions

Top of Page

Attitudes Toward Discussion Group Research

Groups have a number of varying attitudes about the idea of research. Some groups have had specific rules against using their participants for that purpose. The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders Chat Rules stated, for example:, noted that:

Newman Online considers that Advertising and Research, should not occur without consulting the Discussion Moderator:

Some groups are set-up to promote their own research or discuss research relating to their particular subject area. Muscular Dystrophy Association Chat provides an example. Although there was no indication that those conducting or participating in the chats may also be conducting research on the participants, the MDA did not specifically prohibit it in their User Policy. The MDA left it up to participants to decide how they wish to proceed:

Top of Page

Research in Action

In 2007, the New York Times article, On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data, opened with this comment:

Each day about 1,700 juniors at an East Coast college log on to to accumulate "friends," compare movie preferences, share videos and exchange cybercocktails and kisses. Unwittingly, these students have become the subjects of academic research.

In 2010, Twitter donated "its digital archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress". In 2011, the Library of Congress updated the public on its progress and how it sees the archive as being used.

For a look at how those participating in the internet community can be used as research subjects, you might want to take a look at:

Top of Page


This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
Comments and suggestions to:
Created: 2001/09/01 Last updated: 2011/12/15
Terms of Copyright
This document: