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January 6, 2006

MIT Weblog Survey Results Fail To Appear

In 2005 many bloggers heard about a blogging survey from MIT and participated, I did as well. My colleague Kristine Munroe spotted this article about the survey today on The Universal Hub, “That's the last time I answer an MIT survey,? apparently the survey on weblogs was run by a PhD. Student who has not had time to publish the results. I have a call into MIT’s press department to clarify the facts.

In the meantime I thought I’d ask Kristine some questions about this survey in relations to her work on the Backbone Corporate Blogging Survey.

John: What did you think when you first heard the news about the MIT survey not being published?

Kristine: I was surprised, because the survey had been getting quite a bit of Internet publicity. A lot of people took the survey over the summer, and I couldn't understand why the results were still not published over four months later.

John: Do you think this story about the MIT survey reflects badly on the MIT brand?

Kristine: People are going to be much more wary of filling things out like that, especially from a university.

John: You helped to run the blog survey here at Backbone Media, Inc., any perspectives on the difficulties of running a similar survey and getting the results published?

Kristine: The survey participants were all extremely eager to see the results, so we first compiled some preliminary results before the actual results were published. This satisfied the bloggers who already took the survey and it also helped get more people to take the survey because they knew we were very intent on sharing the results.

It did initially take longer than we postulated to get a large amount of survey participants, which in turn made it take a few extra weeks to publish the full results. However, it's important to let potential survey participants to know what the end result will be. Nobody wants to take a survey when nothing is going to be done with the responses.

John: We’ve chatted about the next blogging survey from Backbone Media, Inc. in 2006, I've mentioned that I thought partnering with a University would be a good idea. What do you think of that idea now?

Kristine: It could be a good idea in terms of working with students and compiling more data. Although, now my fear is that potential survey participants might be more wary of putting time and effort into a lengthy survey with this idea in their heads that nothing is going to happen with their results.

John: So you’ve saying that this incident may well affect the whole industry in their response to future surveys. Thanks Kristine!

I will now think twice before I partner or take a survey from a University, and recommend that survey participants ask if a professor is involved with any University sponsored research.

Posted by johncass at January 6, 2006 2:11 PM

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» Update On The MIT Weblog Study from Backbone Blogging Survey
Cameron Marlow is the MIT student who developed the MIT weblog study, I had recently written an article about Cameron not publishing his results within the time scheduled published on his blog. But I thought it would be the polite... [Read More]

Tracked on January 27, 2006 3:57 PM

Comments

It seems a little bit hyperbolic to rap a grad student for being tardy in getting an (already published) thesis up on the web for everyone in the blogosphere to tear apart. Given that most of the (very few) people who are lamenting its absence are really more interested in getting the free, high-quality data, I'd say it won't hurt to wait things out a little while longer.

The much bigger danger to academia is the incessant publishing of obvious results that any six-year-old could deduce ("eating 10 pounds of butter a day is bad for you!") and presenting them as singular academic achievements.

As an exercise: Name another major university that has (1) collected data from a wide population sample for a PhD project and (2) not published the results on the initially-announced schedule for that project. I bet it's true of every single big-name school, but hasn't been noted simply because the research being done wasn't in the area of blogs or social media. That's more a result of the disproportionate amount of attention paid to blogs than it is to any egregious, MIT-brand-endangering shortcoming on the part of a single researcher.

Posted by: Anil at January 19, 2006 1:02 AM

I don’t want to blow this out of proportion, its not the biggest issue in the whole world. But the name of this blog is blogsurvey. If we are not going to write about a survey on blogs what are we going to write about? :-)

I don't think it’s unreasonable for a participant in the survey to wonder what happened to the results. I have taken the step of sending an email to Cameron, but he has not returned my email.

The Backbone Media team worked hard on pulling together our corporate blogging survey over the summer of 2005. In no way would I imagine leaving the participants hanging about the status of the results. When this survey was promoted with the MIT badge, a lot of people joined the study because of the MIT brand and promoted the survey. Sticking the MIT brand on a survey brings the expectation that we will see results when promised. After all, why shouldn’t I expect an MIT graduate student to be able to keep to their promise to publish something within a timely manner? Are you suggesting that we should not expect high standards from MIT students?

Really, I think it would have been fine for Cameron Marlow not to publish the results if he communicated with his survey participants on the status of the results. What I was concerned about is that Cameron has been silent on his progress. If some communication had come earlier in the fall of 2005 I don't think we'd be discussing this issue.

Maybe one issue here Anil, is that the world has changed, and if you as a graduate student or a Nobel Science winner researcher put your name to something and promise your community you are going to do something and don't, a community of bloggers now has the ability to self publish their comments on the web. If I did not have this blog, I would have thought the same way about Cameron Marlow and his lack of response in updating participants on his research results. It's just that now I do have a blog, and so everyone can read my opinions on the issue. And as long as we keep this server going for this blog the discussion is going to be recorded on the web. That's scary, and gives great responsibility to anyone when they criticize another person, but it also gives other graduate students pause for thought when they develop surveys and not publish their results. I don't know if as you suggest most other major universities start research and never publish the results. But I would hope that there would be less of that happening in the future because of this discussion about the MIT weblog survey.

Posted by: John Cass at January 19, 2006 11:28 AM

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