Library and Learning Resources Faculty Research & Creative Works


The Ethics of Studying Online Communities: Challenges to Research Design and Data Collection


Web sites, like online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, have been providing their readers with online forums as ways to voice their perspectives. These Web sites are often seen as online communities and have recently gained much attention from researchers. Due to the nature of these online communities, however, and the dynamic nature of the Internet, we lack systematic methodologies for collecting and analyzing online information (Zhou, Qin, Lai, & Chen, 2007; FTC. 2008). One of the challenges to studying this phenomenon is how to carry out a research project in a timely manner. The nature of online communities is dynamic and, therefore, requires a dynamic research approach. Researchers interested in online communities, however, have to comply with Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations at their institutions which do not support a dynamic research approach. IRB regulations were created to support the kinds of static research approaches that were common in the pre-Web era. Curry (2005) reported that she waited 18 months to get IRB approval for her project on gay and lesbian youth which involved unobtrusive observations of reference services. Curry's example indicates that the process of applying for IRB approval is rigorous and time‐consuming. As such, it often slows down the progress of a proposed project, especially one interested in studying users participating in online communities. In order to capture the essence of the dynamic issues surrounding online users, researchers need to adopt new approaches to research design and data collection that support dynamic, fast-paced research. In addition, these new research approaches must meet IRB requirements and must be accepted by the research community.

Meeting Name

72nd Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology, ASIS&T 2009 (2009: Nov. 6-11, Vancouver, BC, Canada)


Library and Learning Resources

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

0044-7870; 1550-8390

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2009 John Wiley & Sons Inc., All rights reserved.