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This research project addresses the issue of information science aspects that have impact on e-commerce. It focuses on the evolution of information retrieval and evaluation in light of web2.0 community applications like digg.com, wikis, blogs, etc. and possible consequences of this evolution on e-commerce strategies. This research project is designed to be truly interdisciplinary, incorporating knowledge from the fields of information science, technology, media studies, sociology and marketing.
The cornerstone of this research is a thesis that the Internet will evolve in a network of online, virtual communities in the future. According to the author, these online communities will take, thank to technology, different forms (like discussion boards but also digg- or flickr-like applications or wikis and blogs) and will play the central role in online information customer behaviors. This change will, and there is evidence to that, profoundly impact the way Internet is understood today causing online marketers and publishers to rethink their e-commerce strategies and business models.
Finding wanted information on the Internet may be a difficult, frustrating and disappointing experience [Wang P., Hawk W., Tenopi, Users' interaction with World Wide Web resources: an exploratory study using holistic approach, Elsevier Science, 2000]. Therefore it is crucial for today e-commerce marketers that their information is easily found online. To achieve this goal online information seeking models have to be fully investigated, understood and incorporated into online e-commerce strategies.
Recently a new wave of Internet websites (so called web2.0) has emerged. These brand new, 'community oriented -', 'community generated -' or 'social networking -' websites (please note that these meanings differ slightly) revolutionized the way online information is retrieved and evaluated.
Author’s research indicates that early adopters are no longer using Google as often as before. They do use Google to look for everyday information (i.e. what is NY Times website) but when the information they are looking for is vital to them (i.e. which car to buy, how to prepare for SAT, which is the cheapest hostel in Paris) they are more prone to use online communities/community oriented websites. There is a big number of virtual environments (communities) in which early adopters participate, whose members they know well, whose interests and values they share. Such communities serve as an invaluable source of information.
It looks like the way people find information changed from:
Google -> information source
Google -> social networking website -> information source
or even more often to:
social networking website -> information source
leaving out Google from the equation.
In addition to traditional online communities, which have a very long history, web2.0 has produced new tools that enable new ways on online interaction. These tools influence online information retrieval and evaluation significantly. When looking for ways to improve their SAT score, early adopters go to Delicious (), which is a social bookmarking website, where bookmarks and links are being shared by del.icio.us members. These bookmarks are then ranked according to the number of users that shared them. When early adopters want to read tech news, they rarely browse through major newspapers, rather they go to digg.com (), where users submit stories from different sources and later review and promote them. Some love Yelp, which helps find the right restaurant to go depending on reviews submitted by users whose previous reviews they can track back to see if they share the same taste. More and more, blogs, wikis and other web2.0 applications are becoming prime source of information.
One of the goals of this research is to determine, if this phenomena is only true to early adopters or to others as well and if so, will this be an on-going trend and what potential consequences it may cause.
At this point author believes that his dissertation will be divided into two parts.
1. Online information retrieval and evaluation methods
This part will discuss current information retrieval and evaluation methods including: folksonomic tagging (Flickr, Del.icio.us), geo-tagging, taxonomies, user-voted (digg-like) and editorial (slashdot-like) evaluation, indirect collaboration voting (like Google where number of incoming links determine place on Search Engine Result Page), markup languages, etc. Moreover, the advantages and the disadvantages of these methods will be examined and compared with each other, e.g. user-voted (democratic) evaluation method works better in homogeneous communities, whereas editorial tends to be more efficient with heterogeneous audiences, which has it's explanation in political science (see podcast: FLOSS Weekly 10: Who Mos? Hemos! minutes 21-24 ).
This part will also include an exhaustive section about online communities in general, especially about their dynamics, sociology and evolution.
2. E-commerce applications
The second part will discuss the influence of modern online information retrieval and evaluation methods on e-commerce strategies. Classic examples of this influence include: harvesting online communities in search of product feedback, advertising using online communities (using fake or legit online identities), posting stories on digg in order to improve the number of visitors, utilizing blogosphere, youtube and wikis as a publicity tool, blog spamming, contextual advertising, etc. Legal and ethical implications and constraints of these marketing tools will be discussed. Some of these mechanisms will also be either contrasted with 'self-defense' solutions developed by communities/content providers or such solutions will be suggested.
Strong emphasis will be put on the efficient use of social networking websites in online advertising models, online marketing communications and guerilla marketing. A lot of effort will be put in exploring ways blogs, wikis, digg-, youtube-, delicious- like websites can be utilized and monetized.
Some questions that this research will try to answer:
1. How will online product information retrieval and evaluation evolve in the future?
2. How will online marketers react to this?
3. Will search engines incorporate information from social networking websites into their algorithms?
4. Will search engines be human-based (like dmoz.org), automated (like Google) or perhaps blended (imagine Google, digg, flickr in one)? There is an interesting article on a similar matter: 'Man vs Machine in Newsreader War' - Wired 03,2006 
5. How will social networking websites prevent online marketers of their sites (some more information in TWiT 51 podcast[ http://twit.tv/twit51])?
6. How much web traffic does digg generate? (see example at www.mariosalexandrou.com blog )
7. How this translates in revenue?
8. How community oriented websites can be incorporated into Internet marketing communications strategies.
Additionally, author will try to answer such classical questions as:
1. How do searchers move through Web spaces in finding information?
2. What problems do searchers encounter?
3. What strategies and tactics do searchers use?
4. What emotions do searchers experience?
5. How are the observed behaviors related to individual differences?
[Finding Information on the Web: Incorporating User Behaviors in Digital Libraries, Peiling Wang] in light of social networking search and evaluation tools.
Author is aware of the fact that this research idea is quite broad and that it should probably be narrowed, so that it would be academically answerable.
About this document
More on this project at , it is just starting so the website may be down.
The goal is write a PhD dissertation through online cooperation, using free, web 2.0 tools such as wikis, google spreadsheets, del.icio.us etc. as the dissertation will talk about web 2.0 and social networking. You may modify and correct this research proposal freely.