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Research

My research is focused on how people share, evaluate and integrate diverse types of information, in professional environments such as digital libraries and interdisciplinary scientific collaborations, and in informal environments such as online social Q&A communities. By studying similar processes in diverse environments, I see my research as a bridge to help traditionally separate communities inform one another. Finding ways to provide access to multiple perspectives on common problems, and acknowledging diverse forms and sources of expertise, can yield more dynamic, well-grounded, and actionable information.

Grants and awards

Research rationale and findings


My primary research area is in the domain of Social Q&A (SQA): online systems allowing people to ask, answer and interact around a framework of question answering. SQA sites such as Yahoo! Answers have enabled new forms of social information seeking, where people can seek and share information directly, bypassing traditional structures of authority, expertise and publication, which has serious implications for the design and evolution of professional information services. For example, search engine results are no longer based solely on the content of a Web document, but can include social elements as well, such as the location of the searcher, and the number of times a document has been found useful (usually via ratings or "likes") by others. Understanding the extent to which a document's topical relevance balances with its popularity--and how this relationship might be influenced or gamed--is one key application of SQA research.

The Answerbag SQA community is my primary testbed, and is built around a “one question—multiple answers” architecture, allowing people to see the range of diverse answers on a single page, ranked by ratings of past readers and enhanced by comment threads around each answer. The collected answer pages serve as boundary objects--common spaces in which novices and experts can share and contrast opinions--and allow people to integrate the ideas of a wide range of contributors. My SQA research addresses questions of how participants produce, evaluate and synthesize diverse content, to identify patterns of peer production and content evaluation that may also be applicable to environments such as open source software collaborations. SQA interactions are inherently social, so my research also addresses questions of how people gain expertise and standing within online communities, how online identities are built and expressed, and the extent to which the model of aggregate peer authority underlying SQA sites compares with more traditional forms of expertise. Some of my SQA research findings and publications include:
In other SQA work, I have found that:
As a result of my SQA research, I have been invited to collaborate on several research projects comparing behaviors across different SQA sites, organized and participated in conference panels applying SQA to other forms of question answering and information seeking, peer reviewed journal submissions about SQA, and evaluated related grant proposals for the National Science Foundation. SQA is just one example of the social computing model that has become the Web norm, where people do not just seek information, but consciously engage with it, evaluate it, share it, and create it. Tracing the patterns of people's interactions both with and through information in this challenging environment is the focus of my SQA research.

I also conduct research on interdisciplinary scientific collaborations. Coordinating and integrating the work of diverse scientists is a perennial challenge in large-scale scientific research projects, and I am attempting to address this question as a Co-Investigator on Water and Habitable Worlds, a 5-year NASA grant awarded to the University of Hawaii NASA Astrobiology Institute, where I work with scientists from a wide range of disciplines studying life beyond Earth. My core project is to develop the Astrobiology Integrative Research Framework (AIRFrame), a prototype ontology to relate the work of astrobiology researchers from diverse disciplines both conceptually (by subject) and functionally (by researcher, hypothesis, mission, research questions, NASA goals, etc.), so that findings in one discipline can be made more accessible to scientists in others. I am also Principal Investigator of a related NASA grant, Interdisciplinary Research Metrics in Astrobiology (IRMA), funded 2012-13 through the NASA Astrobiology Institute Director's Discretionary Fund.

While my participation in astrobiology research began in 2009, it has been grounded by my earlier work with geospatial digital libraries and the design of an environmental information system designed for both academic and general audiences. My work in this area has yielded several publications, and has suggested some practical tools and strategies for successful interdisciplinary collaborations. Some results to date include:
I have also integrated both threads of my research in two works currently in review:

Some other projects I've worked on include:

California Explores the Ocean, a multimedia collection of oceanographic resources from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives and Library, the UC San Diego Libraries and the San Diego Historical Society (UCSD 2003-2004)

Alexandria Digital Earth Prototype (ADEPT), design and evaluation of a digital library of geospatial resources for undergraduate education (UCLA Department of Information Studies, 2000-2003)

NatureBib, a database of plants and animals found in Pacific Area national parks (U.S. National Park Service, 1998)


Both threads of my research focus on how people without a shared context, be they scientists from different disciplines or strangers on the Web, negotiate, exchange and evaluate information from diverse sources. With an ever-broader range of information resources and methods of access becoming available, it is increasingly important to understand how people evaluate, reconcile and contribute to information accessible to all.