At its 9th annual symposium, ASIS&T Special Interest Group/Social Informatics (SIG/SI) explored information boundaries from a social informatics perspective. William Jones’ keynote address focused on dissolving boundaries around personal information and practical approaches to managing appropriate access. Contributed papers examined boundaries of big data, the diverse forces shaping information boundaries and technology use in human service and barriers preventing equal information access for native Spanish speakers. Presenters discussed location-based services’ ability to overcome boundaries as convenient or creepy and museums’ use of indigenous groups’ artifacts as an insensitive boundary violation. Since social informatics spans many interest groups, SIG/SI looks forward to further stimulating cross-topical research.

social informatics
social aspects
information access
personal information management
location based services
cross disciplinary fertilization

Bulletin, February/March 2014

The 9th Annual Social Informatics Research Symposium 

by Pnina Fichman and Howard Rosenbaum

The 9th Annual Social Informatics Research Symposium, held on November 2, 2013 at the 76th ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Montreal, was a great success. Sponsored by ASIS&T SIG/SI (Special Interest Group/Social Informatics) and the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics and co-organized by the authors, the theme of the symposium was The Social Informatics of Information Boundaries. Following an inspirational keynote address, six thought-provoking presentations addressed the symposium theme, and two posters were presented, as well as two best-paper awards. 

The purpose of this annual research symposium is to disseminate and discuss current research and research-in-progress that investigates the social aspects of information and communications technologies (ICTs). The symposium defines social broadly to include critical and historical approaches as well as empirical work and contemporary social analysis. It also defines technology broadly to include traditional technologies as well as state-of-the-art computer systems and mobile and pervasive devices. As a consequence, the symposium typically attracts members of many other ASIS&T special interest groups.

In light of the theme for the Annual Meeting, Beyond the Cloud: Rethinking Information Boundaries,” the 9th Annual Social Informatics Research Symposium solicited work that focused on the issues of information boundaries that employed a social informatics perspective. We asked several questions in our call for papers to encourage participation by a wide range of researchers and others interested in social informatics topics. What can a social informatics approach tell us about the nature of information boundaries, boundary crossing and boundary work? What are the social and technological forces that enable and constrain information boundaries and boundary work? How do social, technological and informational boundaries evolve and shape each other? How and to what extent can we enhance our understanding of information boundaries by drawing on sociological, organizational and other social science theories? As usual, we received a set of high quality papers and posters that were presented at the event.

Following the opening remarks by Pnina Fichman, Indiana University, the symposium began with a keynote address, Towards Places of Our Own for Digital Information: Constructing Roads and Walls on the Web by William Jones, who is a research associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. He has published in the areas of personal information management, human computer interaction, information retrieval and human cognition. 

In his talk, Jones addressed the theme of the symposium by unpacking the concept of information boundaries through the lens of personal information management. There were clearer and more solid boundaries cordoning off personal information in the years before the web. Whether it was personal in the sense that “it might be owned by us, about us, directed towards us, shared by us with others, experienced by us or simply (potentially) relevant to us,” information was more easily separated into silos for home, school, work or other settings. As more and more of this information moved online and into networked environments, these boundaries dissolved, replaced by ones more permeable and dynamic. 

Jones argues that as a consequence of these changes, information boundaries in this new world both enable and hinder our attempts to control our personal information as access becomes easy and available from multiple locations and devices. He points out that “information about us … that was once effectively hidden from the prying eyes of others, either because access was too difficult or because access attempts would reveal the identity of the snooping party,” is now easily accessible through search engines and is revealed in social networks. At the same time, technologies are emerging on the web that return some measure of control but at a cost. There are what he called “application sandboxes” that silo off personal information, restricting access and creating digital analogs to the cordoning of information in the days before the web. However, a consequence of this development is the fragmentation of information across locations and devices. 

Jones concluded his talk by discussing practical means by which people can implement useful boundaries to protect their own personal information and “ways we might traverse (through road construction) other boundaries in order to realize a more effective cross-application, cross-device use of our information.” During the question-and-answer period, there was a lively discussion about a number of issues raised in this provocative talk, which had to be brought to a close by the moderator as time ran out. 

After William Jones’ well-received keynote, six papers were presented. First, Eric Meyer presented his work with Ralph Schroeder and Linnet Taylor, from the Oxford Internet Institute, about “The Boundaries of Big Data.” He discussed various boundaries in big data research beyond the defining boundary of what is big enough to be big data; specifically he described the disciplinary and dataset boundaries, as well as the boundaries between academia and business, which see the value in big data in very different ways. 

Next, Colin Rhinesmith from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented “From Paper to the Cloud: The Social Informatics of Information Boundaries in Human Service.” As he focused on information boundaries, he built on Kling’s argument that ICT implementation reveals assumptions about its potential benefits and costs to different groups in society. This paper was taken from his dissertation research in which he seeks to problematize the stage of ICT implementation in order to contribute new knowledge about the structural, cultural and technical forces shaping technology in human services. 

Adam Worrall, from Florida State University, presented “‘Back Onto the Tracks: Convergent Community Boundaries in LibraryThing and Goodreads.” He identified three boundaries while studying two digital library projects, Librarything and GoodReads: values, structure and social structure. 

Next, Madelyn Sanfillipo from Indiana University discussed her paper “Government Information Access by Native Spanish Speakers: Social and Technical Barriers.” She synthesized a theory of information behavior with social informatics insights as she analyzed the complex relationships between information inequality and social inequality. This theory allowed her to understand better the sociotechnical nature of the information environment with respect to barriers and boundaries in information behavior domain. 

Sydneyeve Matrix from Queen’s University presented “Beyond Maps, News and Weather: Everyday Geomobile Media Use and the Changing Perceptions of Location Based Services” in which she critically examined the ways in which we perceive location-based services. She proposed that attitudes about mobile technologies range along a continuum from viewing them as convenient utilities, such as finding friends and desired locations, to “creepy” technologies, such as unwanted surveillance and that the success of these services would depend on the ability of marketers to move perceptions to the convenience end of the continuum. 

The last paper, “A Failure of Digital Diplomacy: Social, Cultural and Information Boundaries in Online Cross-cultural Communication,” was presented by Natalia Grincheva from Concordia University. She used online cultural heritage diplomacy as her theoretical framework in a case study of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific in which she argued that insensitive use of cultural artifacts by the museum violated epistemic boundaries of memory preservation by the indigenous groups that owned the artifacts.

During a break following the first paper session, the 30 or so participants viewed two digital posters. Ingrid Erickson from Rutgers University presented the poster, “The Borders and Boundaries of Coworking,” and Shuheng Wu and Besiki Stvilia from Florida State University presented “Work Organization of a Sociotechnical System: The Case of Gene Ontology.”

The last session began with Pnina Fichman giving the 2012 Social Informatics Best Paper Award to Monica Garfield, Bentley University, and Alan Dennis, Indiana University, for their paper “Toward an Integrated Model of Group Development: Disruption of Routines by Technology-Induced Change,” published in Journal of Management Information Systems. The 2012 Social Informatics Best Student Paper Award was given to Eden Litt, Northwestern University, for her paper “Knock, Knock. Who’s There? The Imagined Audience,” published in Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Full citations are provided below. Garfield and Litt presented their papers, and Noriko Hara from Indiana University discussed the contribution the papers made to social informatics research.

As in previous years, the symposium was a success with high quality papers, lively discussion and an international audience. Authors from Europe, Canada and the United States presented the papers and posters. We are pleased to report that the state of research and theorizing in social informatics is healthy and exciting. SIG/SI is already planning the 10th anniversary symposium for the 2014 ASIS&T Annual Meeting to be held in Seattle, and we expect to have another stimulating event. 

Further Information
The full symposium schedule and other symposium information is available at the following locations:
SIG/SI (Facebook):
Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics:

9th Annual SIG/SI Symposium Program

  • Eric Meyer, Ralph Schroeder and Linnet Taylor, Oxford Internet Institute – “The Boundaries of Big Data” 
  • Colin Rhinesmith, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – “From Paper to the Cloud: The Social Informatics of Information Boundaries in Human Service”
  • Adam Worrall, Florida State University – “Back Onto the Tracks: Convergent Community Boundaries in LibraryThing and Goodreads”
  • Madelyn Sanfillipo, Indiana University – “Government Information Access by Native Spanish Speakers: Social and Technical Barriers”
  • Sydneyeve Matrix, Queen’s University – “Beyond Maps, News and Weather: Everyday Geomobile Media Use and the Changing Perceptions of Location Based Services”
  • Natalia Grincheva, Concordia University – “A Failure of Digital Diplomacy: Social, Cultural and Information Boundaries in Online Cross-cultural Communication”


  • Shuheng Wu and Besiki Stvilia, Florida State University – “Work Organization of a Sociotechnical System: The Case of Gene Ontology” 
  • Ingrid Erikson, Rutgers University – “The Borders and Boundaries of Coworking”

Best Papers Awards

  • 2012 Best Social Informatics Paper ($1,000) – Garfield, M. J., & Dennis, A. R. (Winter 2013). “Toward an Integrated Model of Group Development: Disruption of Routines by Technology-induced Change.” Journal of Management Information Systems, 29(3), 43-86. 
  • 2012 Best Social Informatics Student Paper ($500) – Litt, E. (September 11, 2012). “Knock, knock. Who’s there? The imagined audience.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 56(3), 330-345.

Pnina Fichman and Howard Rosenbaum, co-chairs of ASIS&T SIG/SI, are on the faculty of the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. Pnina Fichman is the director of the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics, and Howard Rosenbaum is associate dean for graduate studies. They can be reached respectively at fichman<at> and hrosenba<at>