While there are an immense number of users on social media sites, little is known about many of their social media usage habits. By building a platform – called MTogether – the researchers will have the ability to study individual usage across social computing sites. This will allow the researchers to examine factors like how much time users spend daily on a site, how they split their activity across platforms, and how these patterns may change over time.
“Social media ecology is moving very rapidly,” said UMSI Associate Professor Cliff Lampe. “Although social media companies conduct micro experiments with their own users, there’s no broad research platform for doing experimental testing in non-lab settings.”
Douglas Van Houweling, UMSI Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, said the project will have several wide-ranging benefits. “Faculty will be able to conduct research never before possible, and key players in the social media space will gain access to valuable knowledge generated by a neutral partner.”
Initial participants for the study will be drawn from current U-M student volunteers and the more than one million fans of Michigan Athletics on social media sites. Volunteers' online behavior will be monitored and analyzed while ensuring confidentiality and anonymity.
Ed Chi, staff research scientist for Google research, said, “The study of social interactions is increasingly important, as more people connect and share with others. We’re happy to support the University of Michigan in their research to help us understand the changing web.”
Findings from the MTogether research project will be presented in an annual State of Social Media report as well as at meetings with corporate sponsors.