STATEMENT OF RESEARCH – David Gurzick
In my research, I explore the role of information and communication technology (ICT) in the social lives of
individuals and communities. Over the past decades, ICT use has moved from being a largely peripheral
activity, important to a few but less relevant at a societal level, to become an increasingly central part of the
everyday social experience. Whereas technology was once primarily a tool for performing tasks, technology
today plays a broader role by enabling new forms of expression and building new venues of interaction. I am
interested in understanding how ICT can be designed to best support and enhance these new social
In keeping line with these interests, I take a design science approach towards my research, creating actual
systems to test my ideas and hypotheses and then placing the created systems in real world settings. I find
that the benefits to this approach are twofold. First, studying systems “in the wild” more closely models the
real life situations under study than lab-based experimentation and may afford new and unexpected avenues
for their improvement. Second, the created systems present tangible avenues for interaction with non-
research communities. Such opportunities can provide a starting point for industry collaboration, a base for
future research projects, and a benefit to the general public.
For researchers, this interconnected nature of people and technology affords a unique gateway for addressing
challenging problems that have heretofore remained elusive. I believe that realizing the potential of this
evolving socio-technical landscape will require scientists who bring an interdisciplinary vision to their work.
My varied scholarly background includes teaching in a school of business, serving as a research assistant in a
visual arts department (on grants shared with the Dept. of Psychology), doctoral studies in an information
systems department, and director-level industry experience in applied computer science fields of artificial
intelligence and natural language processing. In short, I take a strong cross-disciplinary orientation to my
research, which emphasizes a collaborative effort to tackle a meaningful research agenda.
In the remainder of this statement of research, I present three projects that I envision carrying out as first
steps in my long-term research agenda. The first is an extension to my dissertation work, refining the
guidelines which inform the creation of engaging online communities; the second focuses on building an
understanding of the patterns and practices of how users navigate multiple points of online presence; the
third project examines the transformational impact that ICT-enabled personal networks will have on the
Designing Deeply Engaging Online Communities (project 1)
The growing role of online communities in society and the stake they have in modern social interactions has
given rise to an interest in how to design these systems. Though scholars have been quick to cite many
exemplars of thriving, flourishing communities and, from the analysis of these communities, decipher
reasons for the likely factors of their success, the understanding gained from this practice, while offering
some guidance to designers, often lacks the power to explain why seemingly similar communities can have
widely varied outcomes in terms of their success. Moreover, of the many online communities that have been
cited as exemplars over the past decades, only a handful remain in existence today. These serve to illustrate
how the current knowledge of online community design is incomplete and lacking the underlying theory
necessary to adequately inform the creation of engaging and sustainable communities.
In my dissertation I asked the question, “now that we have an abundance of techniques that allow for
involvement and communication to occur online, how can they be arranged to create an environment
conducive to deep engagement? How can an online community be engineered so that it is personally and
purposefully meaningful?” I chose adolescents as a group of study, given their status as the avant-garde of
online communication, and situated my research within an online community for adolescents named
Fieldtrip. Created as a community of co-created knowledge fostered by the production and sharing of
authentic and representative media, Fieldtrip invites teens to collaborate with their peers and adults in order
to determine what education means to them now and in the future. It is a multi-year, multidisciplinary
venture undertaken with the goal of stimulating under-engaged adolescents to rethink their ideas about
education and become more invested in learning and school.
After examining how adolescents interacted in the first version of the Fieldtrip online community (which was
designed in accordance with existing best practices), I generated theories to explain where the design was
limiting interaction. These limitations were then mapped to enabling technologies and practices, which I am
currently applying in an iterative redesign of the online community to assess the community’s ability to
increase levels of engagement. This research will result in development of guidelines for designers of
adolescent online communities that reflect a refined best practice.
As an extension to my dissertation, I would like to explore the fit of guidelines in other settings beyond those
catered toward an adolescent population. By using these guidelines to inform the design of other online
communities and monitoring the changes that result, I can continue to refine these guidelines and move
towards the grounded construction of a new design theory for deep engagement that can better direct the
design of all online communities.
Managing the Multiplicity of Online Presence (project 2)
Identity management has long been a concern for designers of online communities seeking to augment the
social interaction in their communities by enabling users to develop expressive and persistent identities.
Recently, the advent and increasing popularity of social networking applications have reemphasized the
importance of identity by highlighting the online profile as a primary mechanism for user representation.
There are nearly as many designs for the online profile as there are online communities. These differences in
design go beyond just site branding and visual layout. Features vary between profiles, as does the basis of
their construction - from system-generated attributes, to community feedback, to aspects that are self-
constructed. Cultural trends further complicate the practice of identity management. Online profiles are
transient as users migrate from site to site. It is also common for users to maintain a simultaneous presence
within multiple online communities. In short, an online profile is not a monolithic system, but rather exists
as an element within a user's interwoven web of identities.
To advance the design of online profiles requires building an understanding of the patterns and practices of
how users navigate multiple points of online presence. Specifically, I am interested in exploring what social
practices are modified or established as the activities of identity management become diffused across a
network of profiles; in particular, how does this alter the perception of a user's identity, and how might this
impact the way that communities are designed to support identity management?
Fieldtrip offers the opportunity to collect a rich set of data on the varied points of external presence that its
users maintain. As a trial with the first iteration of the community, I recorded the various profiles maintained
by a small sample of users. I will be expanding this to account for a larger number of users in future iterations
of Fieldtrip and intend to also solicit involvement from other online communities. After recording these
profiles, my intention is to mine the data for patterns that will inform the creation of more suitable online
profiles and presence management tools. These could be evaluated in future iterations of online
communities. The outcome of this project will result in a greater awareness of the ways that users manage
their multiplicity of online presence, and contribute to the development of design guidelines for online
Transforming the workplace by realizing personal networks (project 3)
A hallmark of online communication is that it transcends physical location. Increasing attention has been
given to the communication that extends from employees to their social contacts outside of the organization.
Much of the attention has been critical of this practice, citing the negative consequences from uncontrolled
and unfettered communication, and recommending the establishment of barriers between work and
However, for many, ICT has enabled a pervasive social experience that extends beyond traditional
organizational boundaries. Particularly for younger generations entering the workforce, work-related
questions are routinely asked and answered among networks of close friends. Under such thinking, the
productivity of an employee is impacted by the extent of the relationships they have, many of which exist
outside of their workplace. This challenges the assumption that creating barriers is the most effective
managerial strategy and instead raises the question, “how does a manager manage this new paradigm?”
A starting point for studying how personal networks are utilized in the workplace is to examine interactions
that occur within the social networks of employees within a select number of organizations. Data points will
include observations of computer-mediated communication between internal employees and those outside of
their organization, explicit statements of codes of conduct, and interviews with management. Collection and
analysis of this data will be used to form an initial set of theories explaining the impact that certain policies
and tool configurations have on collaborative work based on external social networks. From this
understanding, a set of candidate organizations will be selected for more long-term investigation to test the
initial theories. This study will inform the selection and creation of policies and practices surrounding the use
of personal networks in the workplace and offer recommendations for optimizing the workforce within it.