Social Science Computer Review

Volume 27, No.2

Summer 2009


Table of Contents



Political blogs and blogrolls in Canada: Forums for democratic deliberation? / Royce Koop & Harold J. Jansen


Several theorists have entertained the possibility that the egalitarian nature of internet-based discussion may facilitate meaningful democratic deliberative discussions amongst citizens. This article provides a preliminary empirical test of these claims by examining the extent to which blogs and blogroll communities act as forums for online democratic deliberation. The analysis uses a dataset derived from a content analysis performed on blogs from three Canadian partisan blogrolls in October 2005. In contrast to most previous studies of blogs and bloggers, our units of analysis in this study are individual blog posts rather than bloggers themselves. We perform three tests of the democratic deliberative quality of blog-based discussions: a) whether discussion is characterized by equality of participation; b) whether bloggers discuss substantive issues; and, c) whether bloggers engage constructively in discussions with opponents. We find that online discussion on these blogs and blogrolls does exhibit some democratic deliberative characteristics but that this discussion is often characterized by inequality of discussion, a focus on non-substantive issues, and non-constructive engagement between bloggers. 

Keywords: Blogging; Online Communication; Democratic Deliberation; Political Discussion


Exploring online structures on Chinese government portals:  Citizen political participation and government legitimation / Min Jiang & Heng Xu


This paper explores the communicative structures of Chinese government websites and their implications for citizen political participation. Taking issue with the party-state’s dubious claim of building a transparent, service-oriented, and democratic administration, the study analyzed web features on 31 Chinese provincial government portals. UN’s e-participation framework was adapted to locate venues for citizen involvement. The results suggest that by manipulating online structures, Chinese government resorts to more subtle forms of online social control through information delivery, agenda setting, and containment of public dissent. Limited improvement in administrative efficiency and transparency serves the dual role of deflating social tension and re-establishing Party legitimacy. Paradoxically, citizens’ political participation may generate unintended consequences of incremental reform of China’s local governance and political institutions.

Key words: China, government, democracy, control, participation, Internet, technology, website, UN


The influence of topic interest and interactive probing on responses to open-ended questions in web surveys / Jennifer L. Holland & Leah Melani Christian


Web surveys offer new opportunities for achieving high-quality responses to open-ended questions because the interactive nature of the web allows questions to be tailored to individual respondents. This paper explores how respondents’ level of interest in the topic of the question can influence whether people provide a response and the quality of their answers. In addition, we examine whether an interactive follow-up probe, asked after people submit their initial response to the open-ended question, can improve the quality of responses. We find that respondents’ interest in the question topic significantly impacts responses to open-ended questions and interactively probing responses to open-ended questions in web surveys can improve the quality of responses for some respondents, particularly for those very interested in the question topic. Nonresponse remains a significant problem for open-ended questions; we found high item nonresponse rates for the initial question and even higher nonresponse to the probe, especially for those less interested in the topic of the question. Consequently, interactive probing should only be used for a few key open-ended questions within a survey where high quality responses are essential and that they may be more effective for respondents who are already motivated to provide a response.

Key words: Internet surveys, Interactivity, Open-Ends, Questionnaire design, Leverage-saliency, Item nonresponse


Differences in the visual design language of paper-and-pencil surveys vs. web surveys: A field experimental study on the length of response fields in open-ended frequency questions / Marek Fuchs


Recent research has demonstrated that respondents in self-administered, paper-based surveys answer open-ended frequency questions differently depending on the size of the response field provided with the question. If a longer field is offered in the questionnaire, the proportion of respondents who provide an alphanumeric elaboration of their response or explicitly designate their answer as an estimate (“about 20”, “~50”, “60-70”) increases. By contrast, shorter fields yield higher proportions of pure digit responses. Based on the cognitive model of the questions-answer process, it is assumed that respondents interpret the size of the response field as a significant instruction regarding the type and the format of the expected survey answer. In this paper, we assess the differential effect of the length of the response field in a Web survey compared to a paper-and-pencil questionnaire. In a field experimental study among 5,042 secondary chool students in Germany, we conducted a randomized 2x2 factorial comparison of five frequency questions in a paper-based self-administered survey and a Web survey. Results indicate that the effect of the length of the response field on the responses obtained is more pronounced in the paper-and-pencil condition than in the Web survey condition, where it is almost non-existent. This raises the question as to what extent the underlying visual design language differs across self-administered survey modes.

Keywords: Web survey; visual design language; frequency question


Dimensionality analysis as a computerized tool for strategic planning in policing and security / James R. Brunet & G. David Garson

Multidimensional scaling is a useful addition to the toolkit of the crime or security analyst+, made possible by the advent of desktop computing power. Three uses of this graphical statistical tool are presented: (1) forming policy initiatives and making resource allocations; (2) analyzing terrorism threats and dynamics; and (3) structural analysis of performance data. Dimensionality analysis is compared to more commonly encountered techniques such as factor analysis, cluster analysis, and correspondence analysis, and their relative merits discussed. Data used to illustrate dimensionality analysis are drawn from crime statistics on U.S. cities, terrorism incidents in Israel, and performance indicators for American police departments, but the methods presented are broadly applicable to a wide variety of policing and security issues and the same principles apply to other forms of data.

Keywords: computerized dimensionality analysis, multidimensional scaling, law enforcement, criminology, terrorism homeland security, crime statistics


Visualization of Group Members’ Participation: How Information Presentation Formats Support Information Exchange / Joachim Kimmerle and Ulrike Cress

Previous research has shown that people involved in a computer-mediated information-exchange situation are strongly influenced by the behavior of other participants. In order to avoid being exploited by the other group members, people use the current cooperation level of the rest of the group as an orientation for their own willingness to cooperate. In a highly cooperative computer-supported group, this leads to a positive development. However, the question arises as to how a negative development can be dealt with, without reinforcing a mutual decline in cooperation. In order to empirically answer this question, the study reported in the present article considers an idea from information-visualization research and experimentally varies information presentation formats. Results show that a cumulative as opposed to an absolute information presentation format supports people’s contribution behavior. Moreover, it appears that people generally prefer to receive comparison information. However, presentation formats that extenuate processes of social comparison do not support contribution behavior. Finally, the highest cooperation rate was found for those individuals with a dispositionally high need to engage in social comparison in a situation with a cumulative group feedback format.


Reports and Communications


A creative approach to assess usability and acceptability:  A case study of the patient reported outcomes measurement system (promis) workshop / Liz J. Jansky & Jennifer C. Huang


The Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement System (PROMIS) network, funded as part of the National Institute of Health’s Roadmap Initiative, is in the process of developing a revolutionary computerized adaptive testing system for use in the clinical research community as a standardized method to select and implement patient-reported outcome measures.  Soliciting end-user feedback on the system has posed logistical challenges, given the magnitude of the system’s scope and the diversity of the target audience and their research needs.  This case study presents a creative application of multiple qualitative methods – participant observation, usability testing, and focus groups – to determine end-users’ acceptance of the system and its usability.  Findings from these methods highlight the value in using a multifaceted approach to solicit end-user input to software development.

Keywords:  usability testing, focus groups, participant observation, patient reported outcomes, software development, computerized adaptive testing


Teaching methodology to distance education students using rich media and computer simulation / Michael Vasu & Ali Ozturk

This article addresses the two major issues involved in the teaching of introductory methodology courses vs. face to face instruction. The first issue incorporating a rich media solution, specifically streaming video, to precede traditional notes on any topic and , two, the use of  a computer simulation software created by the authors, which can be placed on a matriculated distance education student’s, desktop remotely, without the legal, or logistical problems of using commercial software, for example, SPSS or SAS . Technical and pedagogical dimensions of these particular issues are discussed as well.


Book Review


The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods, by Nigel Fielding, Raymond M. Lee & Grant Blank, eds. / Reviewed by Stephen Kleinschmit.