What is Social Informatics and Why Does it Matter?

Note 1. This account of Lotus Notes’ use is based on my integration of data reported in Mehler (1992) and Orlikowski (1993). Mehler is a journalist who explicitly identifies Price Waterhouse. Wanda Orlikowski, an MIT professor who has made important contributions to organizational informatics, protects the identity of this organization with a pseudonym. This protection is often important for researchers to be able to publish their studies, and normally is effective in masking an organization’s identity. However, Price Waterhouse’s unusual mass purchase of Notes for all of their consulting staff was the subject of several reverential stories in the technical and business press. (See, for example, Dyson (1990a; 1990b). Price Waterhouse was widely known to be the first major consulting firm to make a major commitment to Notes in the 1989-1991 period. Back to text of story.

Note 2. See previous note about Orliklowski’s study. Back to text of story.

Note 3. We will focus on those electronic journals whose primary distribution medium is electronic, unless we note otherwise. Back to text of story.

Note 4. There are substantial criticisms of peer reviewing as well as defenses (see, for example, Hibbitts 1996, 1997; and Zariski, 1997a, 1997b). Back to text of story.

Note 5. I have restructured Nadasdy’s list to better fit this analysis. Back to text of story.

Note 6. It is worth noting that other refereed e-journals also publish only a few articles per year. While these rates are a small fraction of the number of articles published annually by quarterly paper journals, they seem to be typical of refereed e-journals in the mid-1990s. For example, the Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science (CJTCS) published the following number of articles: 1995 (4 articles), 1996 (6 articles), 1997 (5 articles). (See This journal has an editorial board of 41 members, but few of them publish in the journal. Even so, the MIT Press assumed publishing responsibility for the CJCTS in 1998. The MIT Press has also changed the circulation policy from one that is “free” and publicly accessible to one that is restricted to subscribers. It lists over 60 institutional subscribers whose subscription price is $125/year. Back to text of story.

Note 7. The term “socio-technical systems” was most strongly advocated in the 1950's - 1970s by a group of psychologists who were originally associated with the Tavistock Institute in London, England. They were particularly concerned with improving the effectiveness and psychological well-being of production workers. They advocated ways to “jointly optimize” the technological and social systems of workplaces, and advocated such practices as autonomous work teams, rotating jobs, and pay for learning new skills. This usage has also influenced some thinking about information systems design, and is reflected in two classic papers by Bostrom and Heinnen (1977a, 1997b). In this view, a technology is an artifact whose typical use has consequences for the social interactions and social relationships of the people who use it. The socio-technical analyst considers these social effects when designing a new artifact (including information systems).

Our use of the concept of “socio-technical systems” goes beyond this view. It differs in the typical social settings to which it is applied, since we do not emphasize production workers or solutions such as autonomous work teams or “joint optimization.” However, more fundamentally the systems that we characterize as socio-technical so intertwine social and technological elements that they are a complex admixture (See Bowker, Star, Gasser and Turner, 1997; Mansell and Silverstone, 1995; Wellman, et. Al., 1996). Back to text of story.

Note 8. We have referred to these relationships and dependencies as a “web of computing” (Kling and Scacchi, 1982; Kling, 1992). Back to text of story.

Note 9. The term “user” is a bland descriptor of varied social roles that people play in new media such as digital libraries and electronic journals. For example, the people who are likely to use digital libraries are likely to include readers, as well as a variety of digital librarians to support the documentary collection as a viable service. In the case of electronic journals, “the users” refer to a variety of participants including authors, readers, editors, and journal production staff. Back to text of story.

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